Events off the pitch rather than on it have grabbed the headlines in newspapers following the outbreak of serious violence at a top football league clash at the weekend. Czech football authorities are suggesting that police should be ready in grounds to tackle trouble and are also looking for foreign inspiration how to ban hooligans from matches.
Police were called in to drive back masked and marauding hooligans at Saturday’s top Czech league football match between Baník Ostrava and current league leaders Sparta Prague.
Violence erupted at half time at the match in Ostrava as flares and stadium seats flew across a narrow divide and a flimsy fence dividing the rival fans was torn down. Police with dogs, stun grenades, and tear gas eventually intervened with the 15 minute interval stretched out to almost 40 minutes before a semblance of order was restored.
Controversially, the game carried on though many innocent fans, women and children, had already fled to safety away from Baník’s aged stadium. Around a dozen police and members of the public were injured and police detained around 30 people suspected of violent behaviour.
The eruption of hooliganism has once again sparked a public debate over what steps Czech football and public authorities should take to stamp out such incidents. At the moment, security within football grounds is the responsibility of the clubs themselves, which often employ stewards or private security firms. Police are only called in when violence breaks out within the ground, as was the case on Saturday.
Chairman of the Czech Football Association, Miroslav Pelta, was quick to call for greater steps to tackle hooliganism before somebody is killed in the violence. Pelta held a hastily arranged meeting with the Minister of Education Youth and Sport, Marcel Chládek, on Monday to discuss the options.
Minister Chládek voiced the opinion in the post discussion press briefing that bringing police back into football grounds, with football clubs presumably picking up the bill, could be one of the answers.
“At the same time we would like to discuss with the Minister of Interior about the possibility of a direct police presence at grounds where games could be said to be high risk. If this had happened at Ostrava then it is probable, even highly probable, that things would not have gone so far”
The idea of registering football fans and issuing them with identification cards on similar lines to the cards with data chips which are mandatory in the Netherlands was also raised during the meeting. The football association’s Pelta said that orders banning so-called fans from grounds can currently be made but the clubs have no real means of putting those orders into effect because they cannot tell who is who.
The Ministry of Interior appears cautious about bringing police back into stadiums but has not kicked the idea into the long grass. The principle that football matches are private events and the responsibility of the club’s themselves still reigns in most of Western Europe and the costs on a cash strapped force would be significant. But interior minister Milan Chovanec says he is open to talks.
Meanwhile, the football association and education ministry are setting up a working group, involving clubs and local authorities, which should report back with specific recommendations on what legislative and other steps should tackle football hooliganism once and for all.
My Prague – Rob Cameron
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