Will hooligans spoil Euro 2008?
Following a spate of violence at several football games, the heat is now on Euro 2008 organisers if they can maintain security.27 May 2008
GENEVA - Will Swiss hooligans spoil Euro 2008? That is the question that some of the nation's media has been asking following a spate of violence at several games.
Those responsible for Euro 2008 insist they are up to the job and extra manpower and security checks will reduce the risk of any trouble.
Swiss police are less than a fortnight away from a major policing challenge when Euro 2008, played in Austria and Switzerland, kicks off in Basle on 7 June.
In the latest incident, seats were ripped out and a goal post wrenched from the ground after St Gallen faced the prospect of relegation following a 2-0 defeat to Bellinzona on 20 May.
St Gallen was the third incident in a month that saw violent clashes with police who twice resorted to rubber bullets and tear gas.
On 2 May, FC Zurich fans in the stands lobbed lighted fireworks at rival Basle fans part way through the game Basle won 4-0. After the match there was more trouble outside the stadium, with 45 people injured and 12 arrested.
On the same night in Berne, around 100 people were involved in violence after local club Young Boys lost 3-1 to Xamax Neuchatel.
"Will hooligans ruin Euro 2008?" asked the headline in mass circulation paper Blick, one of the German language dailies.
How were fans able to smuggle fireworks into the ground in Basel where Switzerland will play all three group matches, asked the Sonntag newspaper.
The Swiss government's Euro 2008 representative Benedikt Weibel told the paper he remained "convinced" everything concerning security was under control.
The Swiss head of security for Euro 2008, Maertin Jaggi, told a news conference in December he believed hooliganism was unlikely to occur.
He said the family atmosphere of the international tournament, as opposed to national games which are attended by not so many women and children, would temper any violence.
The view that national and international football events drew different types of fans was supported in an editorial in another newspaper, Tages-Anzeiger.
The Zurich-based newspaper said after the trouble in Basle and Berne that the trouble was down to extremist groups who courted club teams not the national side.
Sports minister Samuel Schmid said that hooliganism can not be ruled out. But he expressed his belief that extra measures such as more policing, restrictions on alcohol (which he has called "a catalyst for violence") and video surveillance will help keep trouble at bay.
"The gap between genuine commitment and fanaticism is narrow in football, the church and society," Schmid told a congregation at a special service in Zurich Cathedral linking the Church and Euro 2008.
He said alcohol fuelled violence and parliament had recommended controls to the cantons underlying the message that drinking led to hate, not joy.
"Euro 2008 should be a celebration of peace," he added.
As for policing, hundreds of officers from France and Germany have been drafted in to back up Swiss forces, as well as 15,000 troops. The total cost of the security operation runs to USD 56 million.
There will also be police spotters deployed in the four Swiss venues looking out for any potential trouble.
While Switzerland is seen as a low risk country in terms of hooliganism, violence has been on the increase in recent years. Estimates claim there are around 400 hooligans and 600 sympathisers.
Though the forces of law and order are patrolling outside the grounds, it is private security forces who are in charge within the stadiums and it is here some of the worst violence in Swiss games has occurred in recent weeks.
[dpa / Expatica]