standard Security and risk at Sport Mega Events

Findings on Sport Mega Events from two former IHRR researchers, Dr Francisco Klauser and Dr Richard Giulianotti, reveals that these are far more complex and dynamic than is normally realised.

Their work shows the variety of public, government, and commercial interests involved in securing these kinds of events from potential risks such as terrorist attacks or riots. It also highlights the sophisticated level of security both in terms of policing and surveillance. This research was part of the Risk and Security programme based at IHRR.

security and risk in sport mega events

Wembley Stadium

Research in brief
  • Sport Mega Events are laboratories for testing innovations in security technology which leads to security models that become standard practice.
  • Certain Sport Mega Events are made into security exemplars which are transferred to other cities that host them, although they may not necessarily be applicable to a country’s needs.
  • There are post-security legacies established in countries that host Sport Mega Events, but possibly even more so in developing countries in terms of policing and electronic surveillance.
  • While Sport Mega Events are large public events they are driven mainly by private interests which work to prevent public scrutiny of the security measures implemented.

When it comes to governing security risks in urban environments, Sport Mega Events are at the top of the list. They are some of the largest kinds of public events in the world that demand new forms of security never before seen. The large numbers of people they draw in are often far beyond what many cities deal with on a regular basis.

Massive sport events such as the FIFA World Cup, Super Bowl, and the Olympic Games create new spaces that are both highly controlled and surveyed by government and private authorities. Policing them is no longer confined to physical force, but includes high-tech forms of surveillance and new techniques for ‘crowd control’.

Security at Sport Mega Events radically transforms urban areas not only to accommodate the event itself, but to prevent or mitigate potential risks that may disrupt it, from terrorism to hooliganism. These events also involve complex social as well as built infrastructures, involving issues of class, state power, and neo-liberal privatisation that transform sport into a monumental commercial enterprise.

These social, political, and technological forces all interact together in a number of complex ways in the course of such events.

Sport Mega Events are extremely costly, but also highly profitable. The budget for the 2012 London Olympics was £9.3 billion that includes an extra £271 million to boost security. The introduction of thousands of security personnel and implementation of the latest surveillance technology transforms parts of the city into enclaves specifically designed to prevent and mitigate security risks.

In a way this sanitises the urban landscape in an attempt to seal off risk entirely and channel spectators through different parts of the city from transport interchanges to event arenas. Security in this sense is about controlling daily life, but in a way that allows the event to continue unimpeded. Also, the host cities tend to be large tourist destinations and having Sport Mega Events encourages economic development to promote their ‘tourist image’.

However, in some cases managing security check points and implementing the most advanced surveillance technologies is not sufficient. The crowd itself must be managed in such a way that it does not cause interference with the event. The use of ‘fan zones’ in the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany is a prime example of this. A fan zone or ‘fanmeile’ is the separation, fencing, and surveillance of extended parts of city centres:

The tightly enclosed fan zones addressed not only the need to regulate public life during the event, but also served temporarily to reconfigure urban space in the interest of visibility and branding for FIFA’s commercial partners. (KLAUSER, F. 2011)

These fan zones are not only in place to make people safer or more secure, but also exist as an extension of commercialism that underlies the event. Those who participate are also promoting the activities of private commercial interests though they may not be aware of doing so. The commercial influence of Sport Mega Events is obvious in many ways.

All small and major sporting events tend to have corporate sponsors, not to mention the teams themselves. How participants are ordered by security is influenced by mass commercialism. Contemporary security governance combines risk with commercial branding.

Sport Mega Events are laboratories for testing innovations in security technology, whether it is CCTV surveillance systems with face recognition or methods of crowd control. Expertise is relied upon to develop model solutions that can lead to projected outcomes, but there are problems with challenging predefined security models.

Exemplars drive Sport Mega Event security and are perhaps overly relied upon, potentially leading to other risks that may or may not be well-defined by the policies implemented.

In the case of the 2012 Olympic Games in London, the model of permanent security infrastructure, such as surveillance technologies, will be transferred to other future host cities of the Olympics, Rio de Janeiro for example, that is developing a similar plan for the 2016 Olympic Games.

security and risk at sport mega events
Olympic Stadium

One issue with ‘best practice’ solutions for security is that measures adopted for one urban centre may not necessarily be applicable to others. Unfortunately, there appears little room for democracy at FIFA or other Sport Mega Events to bring to light these concerns:

Local authorities and stakeholders, having to implement and finance best practice solutions, are increasingly ‘caught’ within globalised networks of expertise, unable truly to challenge the reproduction of predefined security exemplars. Yet if the autonomy of local parliaments is limited, so is the scope of public debate:…negotiations leading to the Host City Charter were a priori excluded from democratic scrutiny. (Klauser, F. 2011)

In order to host the FIFA World Cup, governments must hand over exclusive rights and spaces to the organisation’s personnel and the corporations attached to them. A new security template is then put in place by FIFA. There is an imperative to generate profit at these kinds of events, which involves private corporate influence. When South Africa hosted FIFA in 2010 it also saw it as an opportunity to redefine itself.

South Africa is the first African country ever to hold an international sports event as large as the FIFA World Cup. The World Cup took place in the vicinity of leisure and retail areas originating from gentrification; it was not held in a poorer residential area.

Homeless people and unauthorised vendors were removed forcefully, as is the case in other cities hosting Sport Mega Events. But the levels of security in Cape Town had a variety of effects on a number of different levels.

Crime was reported to have dropped during the football tournament, but then rose significantly after the security officers supplied by the World Cup left. There were also novel methods of security management developed through cooperation between the police and armed forces, but not all of the structures developed as a result of the World Cup remained in place.

More CCTV cameras were installed in Johannesburg for the World Cup and an additional 100 cameras were put in place afterwards. Durban also installed 200 more cameras after the event.

These surveillance initiatives which remained are used for urban security over the long-term with some linked to biometric databases. Thus there are post-security legacies established in countries that host Sport Mega Events like the World Cup, but especially in developing countries in terms of policing and electronic surveillance.

In the case of Euro 2008 (UEFA European Football Championship), UEFA suspended claims of local businesses to spatial ownership, but also denied any public resistance within host cities. This is one of a number of examples that shows how although these events are indeed ‘public’, they are driven by private interests.

The implementation of fan zones in Switzerland and Austria was permanently ‘guided’ by UEFA, meaning that host cities were coerced into accepting them.

In terms of security policy, it is the technology companies themselves who are playing a greater role in governing Sport Mega Events. Private security companies not only implement surveillance technologies, but supply the personnel as well.

If they continue to define security governance in terms of establishing ‘best practice’ how, if at all, will any input be allowed from public stakeholders, particularly local communities, for how security risks are governed in the future?

It does not necessarily follow that privatisation equals less democracy, but private companies’ interests can have a tendency to muffle diverging critical viewpoints from outside, preventing any public scrutiny from taking place in a meaningful way.

security and risk at sport mega events
2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa

Sport Mega Events are also widely televised, providing large sources of revenue for broadcasting corporations. Importantly, what is seen at the event is not always what is seen on TV, as any unintended interactions between fans and the sport event are normally ignored or censored from view, such as offensive language or other disturbances.

In terms of surveillance, football stadiums in particular were used for the piloting of CCTV security systems in the UK before they were widely used across urban spaces from the early 1990s. At large televised football matches the many (audience) watch over the few (football players); in turn police/security view the crowd from CCTV control rooms to track and identify terrorists, hooligans or anyone looking suspicious.

This model has also been followed by other countries in Europe, such as CCTV police surveillance intelligence used in Italy; this is in a sense an ‘exemplar’ of ‘best practice’ that transfers across national boundaries. Also, these kinds of sport events are far more focused on the ‘middle class’ in terms of accessibility. Stadiums have in a sense priced out the poor from attending football matches. This was to reclaim ‘safe urban spaces for respectable fans’.

Instead of football matches being a culturally expressive and in some cases chaotic ‘carnivalesque’ event that dates back to the Middle Ages, they are now largely controlled, commercialised events. English Premier League stadiums are not only for football, but like other large public areas such as airports, have been transformed into shopping malls and high-profile conference suites that are part of the backdrop of luxury hotels, health clubs, bars, etc.

The branding rights for the stadium are then sold to the highest bidder, which has become a norm in that many former public arenas are now labelled with consumer brands. This sets the tone for the way Sport Mega Events and other small or large public events are managed, not merely in terms of public safety, but in the interests of private business.

Terrorist attacks have also left a lasting impression upon large urban centres where Sport Mega Events are held. Since 9/11 and especially since the 7/7 bombings, which occurred a mere 20 hours after the International Olympic Committee made London a future host of the Olympics, the threat of international terrorism has been imprinted on the British capital.

This has set the stage for how security exemplars will be used today in the UK and other parts of the world. If numerous economic interests are fundamental to security governance in ensuring public safety at Sport Mega Events, then further research could understand how these security models are currently being developed and disseminated.

References and Further Reading

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