CTB Interview: Large-scale sporting events
Counter Terror Business (CTB) talks to David Stewart (DS) about security planning for the 2022 Commonwealth Games, safety within the ‘last mile’ and stadium security
CTB: Major sporting events can be an ideal target for terrorists, as highlighted best in Paris in 2015. Since then, how have security considerations changed at large-scale sporting events?
DS: Obviously, in the UK our most recent incident was at the Manchester Arena in 2017 and this, whilst not a major sporting event, had a similar profile. Many major multi-sport events will use venues that are normally used for concerts etc. so really, the main focus is always driven by the threat and risk assessment for each individual venue and event. As such, there haven’t really been significant changes in the approach but just a greater acknowledgement that there is always a potential threat and then on a case by case basis, consideration has to be given to how to mitigate the risk posed by that threat.
The biggest challenge for major sporting events is trying to ensure that the event is safe and secure but without it feeling like it is defined by security. We always have to consider appropriate security measure but the security should ideally be secondary to the event itself.
Technology is moving on apace with new mass screening devices being actively tested at venues and what we are now seeing is technology being used in conjunction with suitably trained resourced to provide security layers. So, for example, there may be some mass screening ‘walk through’ type equipment in the ‘last mile’ as pedestrians are walking to a venue. These devices will not pick up a pocket knife but will detect large metallic objects that could potentially cause harm so that interventions can take place further away from the main external ‘crowded place’ where spectators are queuing to gain entry. Also in the last mile we can have specially trained behavioural detection officers. These can be police officers or security personnel who are looking for people who are displaying certain signals or behaviours that may call for further investigation.
Last year I attended a concert at the Manchester Arena and, on the approach I passed police officers with explosive detection dogs – another option for consideration and a valuable visual deterrent. At the turnstile I was then subjected to a pat down search and a scan with a hand held metal detector. These are very effective measures with the main failing being on the human aspect of the security personnel not undertaking the search with sufficient rigor. As such, suitable training and supervision of those carrying out the searches is crucial.
A recent development following the Manchester Arena attack has been discussion of ‘Martyn’s Law’ which, although not yet enacted, is proposing that every public ‘venue’ should include some kind of search and screening regime. My own experience of attending sporting and music events is that most have a version of this already in place (to some extent) but, as with all security processes, there also has to be a balance against anything that results in excessive queues and thereby extends the crowded place vulnerability to areas where no search has been undertaken.
During many discussions with many venue operators however, it is clear that they are taking seriously the potential threat of a terrorist attack and working closely with their local police forces and, through that, with experts at CPNI.
The main emphasis however remains unchanged – security profiles at major sporting events must be compared against current threat and risk assessments and developed in conjunction with local law enforcement, utilising suitably trained and equipped personnel.
CTB: You are currently providing major event security training in support of FIFA 2022 World Cup. What were your thoughts on previous/recent large tournaments (FIFA World Cup 2018 in Russia, Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan etc)? What worked and what might have been done differently?
DS: All major international sporting events obviously will identify the potential risk from terrorism, but the profile of each can be significantly different. In a Commonwealth Games or Olympics – style multi-sport event, there is little threat of confrontation between spectators, so the main risk is one of the event becoming a target either because of the scale and volume of spectators or with a view to damaging the reputation of the host nation. The same can be said of most single sport events, for example Rugby World Cup, where again, fan violence is not something that has ever been seen as a significant risk.
The FIFA World Cup (and it’s regional variations (EUFA/CONCOCAF etc.) unfortunately bring the risk of significant fan violence and the planning for these events takes on a whole different range of threats.
It sounds very simple but the critical aspect of any of these type of events is in the planning and the development of the protective intelligence function. In Russia, for example, the authorities identified the threat from their own hooligan fans and acted to mitigate this (apparently successfully).
The next World Cup in Qatar 2022 will be somewhat unique. As opposed to the normal host country where geography and distance between cities can be used as a form of control (in terms of confrontation between fans), the reality is that the 2022 model will be more like an Olympic (city-based) event than a country-wide World Cup. Qatar has limited experience of hosting competitive international football events. In December 2019 they hosted the World Club Cup and it is through de facto ‘test events’ such as these that their plans can be assessed.
Although Qatar regularly scores as amongst the safest countries in the world in the Global Terrorism Index, hosting the World Cup brings a new and previously unheralded dimension. At a time of stability in the Middle East, the potential CT threat to such an event would be credible, but the added factors of a blockade of Qatar by Saudi Arabia and the UAE and a generally volatile broader Middle East political environment at present, bring additional potential threats.
However, my experience in Qatar and the investment being made by the country in expertise from previous events, along with a robust approach to protective intelligence, will go a long way to ensuring a safe and secure event from a CT perspective.