Security costs at football matches; public or private responsibility?

Security costs at football matches; public or private responsibility?

Banning visiting supporters from matches between Ajax and Feyenoord has saved more than EUR 1 million. Time to rethink the contribution of football clubs in the security costs?

Security at football matches has been a hot topic this spring. On Friday 12 July, it was announced that the ban on visiting supporters during the so-called ‘Klassiekers’, the matches between long-standing rivals Ajax and Feyenoord, will continue for at least another season.

In 2009 the mayors of Amsterdam and Rotterdam decided against allowing visiting supporters at matches between the cities’ rivalling clubs Ajax and Feyenoord. Research by the NOS, the Netherlands Broadcasting Organisation, has shown that this measure has saved more than EUR 1 million in four years, which comes down to more than EUR 100,000 per match. Nevertheless, the police labour union has stated that the employment of police at other football matches is straining the organisation and that the limit has been reached. The organisation is calling once again for regulation that will create the possibility to charge event organsers with the costs of policing at football matches and other events. Such a regulation seems an easy fix and has been proposed before. Already in 2011 a bill was drafted that would create the possibility to charge police costs to event organisers. However, for some unexplained reason, football matches were exempted from the obligation to contribute. At the moment the bill is on hold; when asked in November about whether clubs should contribute to the costs, the Minister of Safety and Justice stated that he is looking for other ways to solve the problem. Nevertheless support for the bill keeps being voiced, not only by the labour union but also in legal literature.

The issue is indeed not as clear cut as it might appear at first glance. Football clubs are private actors that organise the matches for their own benefit and they are responsible for the security inside their stadium as a result. However, maintaining security and public order is primarily a task for the government. In fact this task is perhaps one of the most fundamental tasks of all; without which we would live in anarchy. A result of this monopoly is that it is also the (local) government that decides at what cost it will allow an event to take place on its territory. In times of economic hardship it is not unimaginable that football clubs will face more restrictions, such as a ban on visiting supporters or even the refusal of the authorisation needed to organise matches in order to keep public spending in check. Such restrictions will weigh heavily on the clubs, for whom the matches are the main source of income. Nevertheless, these restrictions are the direct result of problems that are created by the main business activity of the clubs.

Whether the 2011 bill will emerge from a dusty desk drawer in The Hague or not, it might be time for football clubs to investigate the option of taking responsibility and contributing partly to the security costs that are inherently connected to their main business activity. After all, the alternative - playing without visiting supporters or not at all because the authorisation for a high risk match has been refused - costs money too.

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