Offer hooligans a branch of diplomacy

Play the Game

Play the Game Ted Vehse respond to hooligans needs courtesy of Jens Astrup

TED VEHSE, Humanities and Religious Studies lecturer at West Virginia said today that the best way to combat violence within sport is not to “confront with police measures” but instead to recognise and respond to a group’s emotional needs writes Adam Manning.

Vehse, speaking on day four of the Play the Game conference in Coventry, argued that the presence of the police at games could unintentionally provoke non-violent offences. He pointed to the 1579 arrests made in the 2006/07 season for “public disorder”, a term that covers a variety of offences.

“The best way to solve it is not necessarily to confront with administrative or police measures, because in my view that has a tendency to inflame the situation, to add pressure and to encourage people to actually respond to the presence of authority,” said Vehse.

“My view is that you should engage the psychology of the group and respond to the need that they’re feeling.”

While adamant that fans’ emotions need to be considered as a way forward to reduce violent outbreaks, he also stressed that he wasn’t in favour of the militant approach.

“We don’t want to empathise with violence,” he said.  “The fans are important, what they feel of the competition matters, and we want to meet their needs both emotionally and competitively.”

Vehse thinks that once fans’ needs have been considered properly by authorities they “won’t feel that they need to go out and fulfil their needs in an anti-social way.”

Fan violence is an ever increasing problem in European countries that have big football cultures, with official football hooligan groups known as “Casuals”.

A renowned Casual group is AC Roma’s “Ultras” gang, who regularly target English teams’ fans in European Cup games. Manchester United supporters have been subject to attacks from the Ultras in the past two seasons, and as a result have been treated harshly by Italian police in order to prevent retaliation from Roma’s extremists.

British police have also cracked down on violence in and around football grounds, with Home Office figures for the 2006/07 English football season showing that only 337 out of a possible 3788 arrests for violence were made.

New improved measures are required for example agreed legislation for fans that is clearly and thoroughly communicated, as well as frequent and ratified checks by FIFA on the standard of refereeing to prevent any injustices that may trigger violence.

“Policing measures will never wipe the slate clean,” said Vehse. “I think that you will always have the fans expressing their needs in some way. The question is, can that way be made productive rather than destructive.”

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