Pele, probably the greatest player ever to grace a soccer field, often calls soccer “the beautiful game.” To keep the game’s biggest showcase from turning ugly, organizers of France 98 have planned a massive security effort that will marshal the efforts of law enforcement officials from around the world during the 33 days of the 16th World Cup tournament.
On the eve of the June 10 opener between defending champion Brazil and Scotland at Stade de France in Saint-Denis, World Cup officials faced a number of monumental headaches. Among them were a strike by Air France pilots and possible slowdowns by railroad workers and truck drivers. But the most ominous clouds are the potential for thuggery by ticketless fans and attacks by terrorists seeking global attention for their causes.
“Our biggest security concern this year is undoubtedly terrorism,” said Walter Gagg, head of security for FIFA, soccer’s international governing body. “The terrorists know there is no bigger platform for them than the World Cup.”
Six thousand police officers, including riot troops, will be on the streets to safeguard an expected influx of 800,000 tourists. Extra police and army units have begun patrolling Paris and the nine other cities that will host the 64 games in the 32-team tournament. Plans call for 7,000 police officers to guard the stadiums and nearly 2,000 soldiers to patrol major tourist spots. More than 5,000 police officers will be on duty for the “Football Festival” to be held in Paris the night before Wednesday’s opener.
“The World Cup should be first and foremost a party, but to make sure it’s a success, security will be fundamental,” said Jean-Pierre Chevenement, the French Interior Minister.
Unlike the 1994 World Cup, held in the United States, France doesn’t have natural barriers such as the Atlantic and Pacific oceans to deter mischief-makers or political dissidents from spoiling the festivities. The United States’ relative isolation from countries where hooligans are infamous for vandalism and violence helps explain why fewer than 100 arrests were recorded during the 1994 tournament, and most of those were for minor offenses.
“We had virtually no incidents of any kind in the stadiums. We had plans for various contingencies, but day after day we’d get the police reports and all we’d see was stuff like selling illegal merchandise or scalping tickets,” said Alan Rothenberg, the president and chief executive officer of World Cup USA ’94 and president of the U.S. Soccer Federation.
“It was rare for us to see anything worse than people being drunk and disorderly. And even then, it was comparable to a Sunday afternoon NFL game, maybe two dozen or so. The atmosphere was spectacular.
“We had said all along to FIFA our fans are not rowdy. We told them our fans are typically a family of four, a husband, wife and two kids. Probably because of geography, the tickets were the least expensive part [of attending games]. It was more an upper-middle class group that came over. That’s different, unfortunately, than what you’re going to see in France.”
French officials are prepared for the worst and hoping for the best.
Wednesday, police uncovered a fundamentalist Islamic guerrilla network and arrested three men in early-morning raids. Less than two weeks earlier, police in five countries had rounded up 88 people they feared were planning terrorist attacks in the days before the tournament. An especially violent Algerian faction, the Armed Islamic Group, was the focus of the operation.
A few weeks before that, police found in northern Paris a bomb similar to those used in a series of attacks that killed 12 people in France in 1995 and 1996, incidents for which Islamic militants claimed responsibility. And in March, a raid on suspected Muslim fundamentalists in Belgium uncovered liquid explosives and World Cup brochures, raising suspicions the tournament was their target.
Thousands of police officers have undergone special training, and anti-terrorist squads have been rehearsing for the possibility of being called into action. In addition, mine-clearing specialists will be on 24-hour call.
The responsibility of providing security will be shared by the World Cup organizing committee, which budgeted 100 million French francs (about $16.6 million) for that purpose, and the French government.
Action in each stadium will be monitored by closed-circuit television. Following a plan deployed in Britain for the 1996 European championships, which were unmarred by trouble, teams of stewards--professional security guards and volunteers--will ensure those holding tickets are the legitimate owners of each seat. Each ticket has the purchaser’s name on it to preclude scalping, and tickets were to be mailed to purchasers shortly before each game to minimize the opportunity to manufacture counterfeits. No one whose name is not on a ticket is supposed to be admitted to the stadium.
If the extra 5,000 state security troops on duty at each game don’t deter troublemakers, French legislators put into effect judicial procedures to deal with incidents swiftly and decisively.
Prosecutors will be on duty around the clock to dispense justice, and cases will be processed in as little as 48 hours. Penalties will be steep: Fans trying to crash games face fines from $8,300 to $16,600. Jail terms will range from one to three years and deportation orders will ban fans from returning to France for up to two years and from attending games there for five years.
The legislation covers anyone inciting hatred or racism, throwing dangerous objects, disturbing a game or bringing fireworks into a stadium. It also will apply to offenders outside stadiums.
Some known hooligans have been banned from the country. Forty convicted British troublemakers were restricted from traveling to France and must report to police stations when England is playing in another country. Plainclothes police officers from various European countries will circulate in crowds and help French officers spot known hooligans.
However, nothing is foolproof. “The risks of violence are real,” said British Home Secretary Jack Straw, who consulted with French officials on dealing with hooligans. “The hooligan phenomenon has not gone away. It will, in fact, continue like all forms of criminality.”
One concern is that fans who couldn’t get tickets will try to crash the gates at stadiums. Only 2.5 million tickets were made available to meet a demand of 25 million, and about two-thirds of the tickets were reserved for sale to French fans, sponsors and VIPs.
The Belgium-Netherlands game June 13 at 80,000-seat Stade de France has been singled out as a potential flash point because each country received fewer than 6,000 tickets and as many as 40,000 avid fans of the rival nations are expected to travel the short distance to Paris. England’s games also will be closely patrolled because the country was allotted only about 9,100 tickets for its first three games.
“My guess is that the stadiums themselves are going to be fine. The biggest challenge they’re going to face is being in the heart of Europe, where they’re within 12 or 14 hours’ drive of many other countries, and they’re going to have a lot of fans come without tickets,” Rothenberg said. “Those are fans who just want the World Cup experience and will watch games in bars and sleep in parks. That’s the place you have to be supersensitive.”
Organizers plan to televise games on huge screens in city centers, a plan that might backfire if the weather is uncomfortably warm, fans drink too much and tempers flare. “It’s much harder to secure,” Rothenberg said. “In stadiums, you can control the environments.”
French tourism officials initially urged fans who don’t have tickets to make the trip, anyway. After consulting with foreign security experts, they retreated and said the screens will be for French fans only. That policy will be nearly impossible to enforce, but organizers say the screenings will be heavily policed to maintain the peace.
That’s not the only misstep organizers have made. In a move that contradicts the security concerns permeating the tournament, a souvenir World Cup pocketknife with a four-inch blade was among the 400 items being marketed to fans until FIFA ordered production stopped in early April.
Another possible problem is the existence of fences around the field in stadiums at Lens and St. Etienne. Formerly considered an effective means of keeping fans off the field, such barriers have fallen into disfavor after several tragic incidents in which fans were injured or killed after being crushed against the fences during stampedes.
Ninety-five Liverpool fans were crushed to death at the Hillsborough stadium in Sheffield, England, in 1989 after a gate was opened to allow fans into a crowded area, and 85 people were killed in Guatemala City in 1996 after fans destroyed fences to get into a full stadium and trampled other fans waiting to see a World Cup qualifying match between Guatemala and Costa Rica.
FIFA requested the fences be removed. “You put wild beasts or prisoners behind bars. You can’t have a party behind bars,” said Joseph “Sepp” Blatter, FIFA’s general secretary. However, authorities at each stadium refused, citing financial considerations and the belief fences are legitimate security measures.
So, the fences are in and, if all goes as planned, terrorists and hooligans will stay out. Organizers, players and fans can only hope the elaborate security arrangements won’t be severely tested. “I’m reasonably confident,” Chevenement said, “but we have to keep a cool head.”