Poland: League season starts with a bang. No, sorry – with a ban

source: StadiumDB.com

Poland: League season starts with a bang. No, sorry – with a ban Complete ban on flags announced, possible nationwide ban on away games. Those are just a few of the growing number of restrictions, with two stadiums on the brink of being closed in just two days. All this after just two weekends of the season in the Euro 2012 host country. And without any hooliganism.

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Before the first game even started, controversy was sparked by Gliwice police, who denied access to the Piast-Górnik fixture to away fans. The two cities are neighbours and the season’s opening match was their first derby since 2008.

Fans aren’t handcuffed to their seats

What raised questions was the policing approach with police officials claiming they don’t have anything against Górnik supporters buying tickets to the home sections of the stands with separated away section remaining empty. Even more, this all happened at the best stadium in all of Silesian region, which is said to have surveillance system exceeding all possible requirements.

This surveillance system received high praise from the police last year when they ranked the ground as capable of hosting major games. If it’s safe, why not for this game? And if it’s not safe, why would police scrap segregation for the idea of mixing the antagonized followings together? Reasoning behind that decision may seem astonishing to some, but below is an exact quote.

Press officer of the Gliwice Police Dept Marek Słomski argues that the ground is indeed safe, but… the fans are not. Piast’s stadium fulfills all requirements for this kind of venues, so we had no problem with approving it as a piece of architecture. But we have to remember that in a derby game the human factor fills this building and this factor decides whether it’s safe or not in certain moments. Fans aren’t handcuffed to their seats and are able to walk around. The fact that we’ll know who has done what is of little comfort when it’s post factum. Our reaction for sudden events takes 30 seconds tops, but in this time someone may already be dead, Słomski said. For the record – there is absolutely no record of people dying inside Polish stadia.

In all honesty police declared that a stadium is safe until people get inside and they rather punish those people collectively in case any of them would be hypothetically willing to commit a crime.

High-risk – what risk?

The policy from Gliwice was within hours discussed to be introduced throughout the Silesian region and possibly nationwide with similar idea being raised on by other regional authorities. Only factor to determine whether away (or all) fans should be banned or allowed to a game is the game having status of “high risk” fixture. That said, Polish law doesn’t define what makes the risk high so it is completely dependent on police evaluation. As an example, in Gliwice police based its fears on message board activity of certain users.

But in Warsaw there was no need for that, apparently. Police in Polish capital decided even before the season that all (!) home fixtures of both Legia and Polonia are of high risk. So if the new policy gets approval in the course of the season, no away following will enter Warsaw and all games are treated like potentially aggressive gatherings.

Turning stadiums into fortresses

Since 2009 Poland has adopted a wide range of measures to secure football grounds and eliminate hooligans, mostly ahead of Euro 2012. Everyone who wants to see a top tier football game needs to have a fan ID card, agree on being monitored from the moment he’s near the stadium, searched upon entering and agree that the police or security forces are allowed to arrest him without giving any reason and he cannot file a formal complaint if he finds the arrest unmotivated. Supporters aren’t allowed to question orders given by stewards, doing so may even be classified as a crime. Security forces on the other hand are allowed to carry and use maces and handcuffs even if not having any license to confirm training in security forces. Which, according to some fans and media coverage, leads to numerous cases of abuse of power against people.

According to official police reports the number of officers securing games in Poland has almost doubled just between early 2011 and early 2012, reaching a massive 152,000 per year. Average league encounter is secured by over 200 policemen, if the official data is correct. Not to be mistaken with security forces the organizer has to provide, who are in fact the ones responsible for safety inside stadiums, with police only being of assistance.

Cases of  physical violence are very rare – again, if the data is correct. According to official information only 1 supporter per 58 games (!) suffers from any kind of injury, whether it's related to violence or not. Police boasts that detection of crimes around football grounds rose by 117% in just a year. Number of criminal charges against football fans went up even more in the same period, by a whopping 240%! However, only 182 out of almost 400 cases against supporters in first half of 2012 ended up with convictions.

Though these numbers are indeed impressive, one should keep in mind that since 2011 the number of criminal offences has risen. Currently supporters risk a court banning order even for standing in the stairway, refusing to sit on their seat, taking an empty one that differs with the one on their ticket, using a swear word or trying to carry a can of beer inside a stadium, which used to end up with a ticket (in the worst case) before legislation changes.

Criminals hide behind flags

And yet, despite all these measures, new ones are being introduced just now, after two weekends of football. Main reason for that is the fact that supporters in some stadiums prepared choreographies, some of them including pyrotechnics. Police Command Office in Warsaw sent out orders to local stations throughout the country for officers to impose bans on all big flags and “other elements of atmosphere/choreography” in clubs that are under their jurisdiction. The ban had been widely criticized this Spring by lawyers, law professors and even prosecutors as unjustified with existing legislation, but has been introduced anyway. Since police are unable to use it themselves, they force clubs to change their ground regulations (law states that breaking ground regulations may be treated as a crime). As Jagiellonia Białystok officials confirmed talking to StadiumDB.com, police representatives informed them that they either accept all the extra regulations banning supporter attributes from their stadium, or the venue gets closed indefinitely for all fans.

The reasoning behind new bans is that people who light flares or commit other crimes use flags as cover when trying to flee responsibility. First city to introduce it was Białystok, where local police – even against suggestions from their superiors – banned even small flags that cannot be used as this kind of cover.

Second one is Warsaw, where police has just this week threatened to close “Żyleta” stand (north end) for half a season if fans don’t stop using pyrotechnics, flags and… streamers. They also aren’t allowed to stand in stairways as this is now seen as a new major threat, despite the north stand being designed by JSK Architects as a standing terrace, capable of holding large, congested crowds. Legia officials met with supporters to assure police they won’t prepare choreos and will clear the stairways. And yet this measure was announced insufficient, pending further analysis.

Just one day later, yesterday, authorities of Greater Poland region announced they may be forced to close one stand or perhaps the whole stadium of Lech Poznan, previously a Euro 2012 venue. Reason is again police coming down on fans who display flags inside the ground and stand on stairs instead of taking their seats.

Ironically, all of the laws used against supporters were also valid during Euro 2012, but were ignored in respect of atmosphere during the tournament. If executed as massively as they are now, people with painted faces and colourful wigs would be subject to fines of no less than €500 and nationwide stadium banning orders of up to 6 years, according to article 57a of the ‘mass events security act’. Those carrying flags inside grounds would currently be subject to similar penalties at some stadiums, if refusing to surrender them at the turnstiles.

And to think we're just two matchdays into the season...

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