The European Football Fans Congress 2017 presented four success stories in legal pyrotechnics. Or at least success in talking about such solution instead of only seeing pyro as a problem.
While the use of pyrotechnics is generally prohibited in the world of football, it's also widely perceived as attractive enough to risk consequences by fans. Four cases of ongoing or successful dialogues where presented during this year's European Football Supporters Congress in Gent, Belgium.
Denmark, Norway, Sweden and USA are almost the complete list of countries where the use of flares and other devices has been met with fruitful dialogue rather than increased repression. Each of these cases was discussed by experts actively involved in such dialogue.
Norway: Pick up the phone
Norway leads the way for enthusiasts of pyrotechnics, having begun their liaison on the issue back in 2005. Asked where to start such a dialogue, Hanne Mari Jordsmyr of the Norsk Supporterallianse said simply: „Pick up the phone and call”.
It has since moved forward and back several times but as of now football fans have the right to legally light flares inside stadiums, provided that they use approved fire devices and not run any pyroshows during games. Of course each legal display needs a lot of paperwork and has to be signed off by different authorities, but for the time being there is no better deal in football.
Especially in the light of recent report published by UEFA that strictly advises against pyrotechnics in football stadia, the Norwegian experience speaks volumes. And they made it clear that the report brings nothing new into the conversation. Norsk Supporterallianse replied to it with their real life expertise. In 2015 there were 80 legal pyroshows in Norway and the number of injuries was zero. Meanwhile UEFA's report underlines the risk of even “multiple deaths”. Risk is something that can be managed though, according to Norwegian fans.
“There is just no way any normal, enlightened person would sign a document saying that pyrotechnics are "safe". Dr. Tom Smith is not wrong when he lists the hazards they present. What provokes us about this, is that this takes us nowhere closer to a safer match experience.” Norsk Supporterallianse review of the report reads.
Sweden: Let's work on solutions
This opinion was echoed during EFFC2017 by Mats Enquist, general secretary of Svensk Elitfotboll. “I've read a ton of reports about how big a problem pyrotechnics are. I am yet to get one on my desk that suggests any solutions. Thank you, but we already know it's a problem, it's time to deal with it.” Enquist said, suggesting that repeating the potential risks of flares won't stop fans from using them. Finding a reasonable way forward is the solution, though it's proving to be a real challenge.
In Sweden fans currently can apply for permission to use pyrotechnics, which is progress of a kind from them being banned altogether. However in practice it doesn't change much. As of yet there hasn't been one application that wouldn't be turned down by the police on safety grounds.
One major milestone reached in Sweden involves lack of fines for football clubs if their fans do use pyrotechnics. This way, if a club meets the safety measures and fans still manage to light flares, there is no risk of high penalties. The only time any fine is possible is if the organiser fails to meet all requirements and allows any pyro display. This brought significant changes not only to club budgets, but also to... to supporter attitudes.
“In the past some fans were angry at those lighting flares because this would bring problems on their club. Now this argument is gone”, explained Sofia Bohlin, showing how much it helped change the attitude within the stands.
Denmark: Let's work on safe flares
There's still a lot of work to be done and the Swedes count on their southrn neighbours in this regard. Yes, we mean Denmark, where Brøndby IF took it upon themselves to find a new, safer kind of pyrotechnics. Their year-long project received a lot of global coverage and is advancing steadily.
It's born out of two practical issues: first, Brøndby is possibly the most fined club throughout Scandinavia. Second, the country's legislation allows 'cold' pyrotechnics to be lit, while banning hot ones. Unfortunately fans seem to like the latter ones a lot more, so the club is working on prototype of cold flares, which could have drastically lower temperature and produce a lot less smoke.
So far the result isn't satisfying, but very promising for the future. Various representatives of clubs and insitutions already visited the city outside Copenhagen to see the effects of their work. And a lot more should come.
“We already have the first early approval from Brussels and waiting for another. We need the pyrotechnics to be allowed by law, we cannot sell it to the politicians on aesthetic value”, said Lasse Bauer, supporters liaison officer at Brøndby. Unfortunately, fans want precisely that: visual effect and the adrenaline rush when lighting a flare. Which is what the Danish are now working to deliver.
USA: Common ground to smoke in
Now the fourth success story of yesterday: Orlando City. We left it late specifically because we wrote about Orlando's initiatives on two occasions already. In case you missed it, there's a good opportunity to bring it up again as vice president of gameday operation Alex Wolf was present at EFFC 2017 (through video conference). As he explained, in Florida the push to legalise flares came from fans, who began using them back when the club was playing in lower division and could get away with it due to low coverage.
Now, in the spotlight of MLS, they had to find a compromise and did it with style. Global headlines with the photos of “smoke device areas” show what is the only designated smoke area that we know of in professional football, placed on the buttom of USA's first safe standing terrace.
In the case of Orlando delivering such solution was a long process which included communication with many stakeholders and nurturing relations with the fire marshall. As of now Orlando City are one of three US teams that allow fans to use any smoke devices (though not regular flares), along Portland Timbers and NY Red Bulls.
In all these cases, as emphasised by each speaker, communication and ongoing dialogue proved crucial. It took years in each case, it's also an ongoing process rather a single project. But so far it's the only way forward for those who seek solutions to a known problem.