Will alcohol bans at major football events become the norm? Ciaran Breen explores
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On Tuesday, when the countdown to the Euro 2016 kick-off hit 20 days, it was announced that in the French city of Lens, an alcohol ban will be enforced from 6am to 6am on all game days. The drinking ban will apply to the highly anticipated Group B encounter between England and Wales on June 16.
Initially the reaction of some, including this writer, was to question why the England and Wales fixture was singled out as needing a ban on alcohol. After all, the Irish party is sure to play at twice the volume this summer, with both sides of the border qualifying for the same tournament for the first time ever.
It appears authorities made the call based on the small size of the host city and in particular to dissuade punters without tickets from following their team to Northern France.
The small northern city of Lens lies just south of Lille and less than 50 kilometres from the Belgian border. In addition to the all-British clash, the town’s Stade Bollaert-Delelis, home to Racing Club de Lens, will host Albania versus Switzerland, Czech Republic versus Turkey and one Round of 16 game.
For context, the stadium’s capacity is 41,233, in a town with a population of 36,000.
The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) estimate that between 300,000 and 500,000 fans from England, Northern Ireland and Wales will make the trip to France for a tournament featuring three home nations for the first time in over 50 years.
The Bollaert-Delelis was the scene of England’s 2-0 victory over Colombia in the 1998 World Cup, a game that saw David Beckham score his first goal for his country with a memorable free-kick. The stadium also hosted games in the 1984 European Championship.
On match-days this June, consuming alcohol will be banned in all public areas, but will be available inside the Bollaert-Delelis.
Police from across the UK will be travelling to France to work with French officers, who already have a lot on their plate, with the host country still on a heightened terror alert.
Assistant Chief Constable Mark Roberts, football lead at the NPCC, will coordinate the support.
“More fans are expected to travel to France than any previous tournament,” Roberts said. “We are working with the French police for a trouble-free competition.”
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Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp recently had to backtrack from a suggestion that his club would bring 100,000 supporters to the Uefa Cup Final in Switzerland, more than half of the population of host city Basel. The German was forced to plead with ticketless fans not to travel.
“I invited all Liverpool fans to Basel, and that was not too smart to be honest,” said Klopp. “It is a nice city but it’s not ready for us. I have to take back my invitation to the fans. Please only people with tickets should go there, because everything else will be chaos.”
Chaos may be a little hyperbolic. Does the introduction of fan zones at tournaments, pioneered by Fifa and Uefa, prove that boisterous supporters need to be controlled and pacified, or does their success discredit the assumption that ticketless fans bring only trouble to host cities?
Ticketless fans aside, almost 2,000 people across the UK who are subject to football banning orders have until June 1 to surrender their passports to authorities.
Chief Constable Roberts trotted out the usual line about bad apples but one wonders whether the banning of alcohol around major football events could become the policing norm.
“The vast majority of supporters from England, Northern Ireland and Wales will be genuine fans who are travelling to France to enjoy the football,” said Roberts. “Our policing team will provide a reassuring presence at venue cities.”
What lessons will the organizers of the upcoming World Cups in Russia and in particular Qatar take from this summer’s experiment in France? I wouldn’t be surprised if Euro 2016 in Lens foreshadows similar initiatives on the Persian Gulf in 2022.
That would certainly provide a compromise with the cultural and societal norms in Qatar, where alcohol is illegal almost everywhere.
However, it is in the realm of policing and supporter management that the trial operation in Lens may have its most lasting effect.
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