The Rise of HD Surveillance in European Stadiums

May 21, 2013

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A look at new legislation in Germany, will other countries follow?

On Halloween night last year, the goons came out. In a German Cup second round football match between Dynamo Dresden and the home team Hannover, chaos ensued in the stands. Some 400 Dresden fans forced their way past security to gain entrance in the stadium and after the club fell to Hannover in a 2-0 defeat, 200 of those fans rushed the field. Some even set off illegal fireworks in the process.

The rioting resulted in 21 arrests and several injuries including police officers patrolling the stadium. A Hannover police spokesman later admitted that officers were “really fearful at times.”

The Dresden incident along with several other recent violent outbursts by fans at football games in the country prompted the German Football Federations (DFB) to take action late last year and implement a “Safe Stadium” plan designed to curb violence and restore order in the stands. Their recommendations included removing standing areas, increased video surveillance, raising police presence, stricter searches at entry and full-body scanners.

Wolfgang Niersbach, the president of the DFB told the German media outlet DW in November 2012, “We have to do everything possible to ensure that our football stadiums become safer places for the 99.5 percent of fans who are peaceful.”

The code of conduct in Germany – which all 32 Bundesliga teams signed at the end of 2012 - along with the growing problem of violent crimes occurring at football matches not only in Germany, but all across Europe, has significantly elevated the demand for high-definition surveillance cameras to monitor the stands in stadiums.

Confrontation between opposing teams’ fans has long been an issue at matches. On top of direct physical altercations, there are often reports of fans throwing bottles and rocks as well as lighting flares. Outside of the stadium, fans have been known to jump on and vandalize cars.

“When there are ten thousands of people in a stadium, there are always dozens who do not know how to behave,” said Falko Bloeding, deputy editor of Goal.com's German edition. “Me, personally, I think [HD surveillance in the stands] is justified. There were incidents at Schalke vs Köln two years ago when idiots from Cologne threw faeces at Schalke fans during the match. It is incidents like this that make people want surveillance inside the stadiums.”

With the technology, police and stadium owners can zoom in and accurately assess situations that may occur in the stands and positively identify an individual or individuals responsible for criminal behavior.

Without indisputable HD surveillance this can be a challenge.

“Violent fans are usually quite smart,” said Stefan Bange, regional sales director for Avigilon’s Germany Austria and Switzerland (DACH) markets. “They always act in groups. Several people covering someone under a fan flag. You see many cases where a person completely changes his clothes and puts on a mask, then comes forward, lights a torch and afterwards, re-dresses to his initial clothes.”

Bange added: “In order to clearly identify specific persons using fireworks and magnesium torches in the crowd, they need systems which are able to record the full scene all the time and are able to digitally zoom-in also in archive mode.”

Even before the inception of the “Safe Stadium” plan, Bange stated that football clubs have been revamping their security systems, making fan surveillance a top priority. For the clubs that deployed HD surveillance in the stands, crimes were addressed and dealt with swiftly.

“One of our stadium clients told me that they had more convicted troublemakers in the first 12 months after the installation of our system then in the entire 10 years before that,” said Bange. “The convictions were conducted based on CCTV footage delivered by our system.”

HD surveillance also acts as a deterrent to crime. Unruly fans being identified and prosecuted face the risk of being banned from attending games, receiving jail time and paying thousands of Euros in fines.

On the flipside, the presence of HD surveillance cameras in the stands raises a couple of issues. The privacy concern is always hot topic in the CCTV debate, but Bange maintains that stadium and police officials ensure through various mechanisms that they fully comply with German data protection laws. Other critics believe that adding elaborate, technologically-advanced surveillance systems will raise prices for tickets. Others German residents simply feel football matches really aren’t that dangerous.  

While Bloeding supports surveillance in the stands, he believes the perception is actually worse than the reality.     

“In 2012, there was a poll saying that 47 percent of the fans do not feel safe in the stadiums,” Bloeding said. “This poll was hilarious, since German citizens were asked and not the people who went to stadiums each week. I personally never experienced violence or felt unsafe.”

Soccer has always been game synonymous with emotion and passion. And with the “Safe Stadium” plan in place, the DFB believes it will stay that way, only without the presence of the goons. Even if it’s on Halloween. 

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