BRADLEY S. KLAPPER, APThe Canadian Press(CP)
BERLIN (AP) – In city after World Cup city, police are reporting no more problems than normal – and this with tens of thousands of impassioned, alcohol-fuelled fans roaming the streets.
Even during the few flare-ups in the tournament’s first week, a preventative policing operation appears to be working. Indeed, there’s been more soccer-related violence in countries whose teams aren’t even in the monthlong tournament than in Germany.
»We are very, very happy so far,» said Christian Sachs, spokesman for Germany’s interior ministry, which is responsible for World Cup security. »Knock on wood.»
The threat of hooligan violence had been a major theme leading up to the competition’s June 9 start, when the first of an expected million-plus fans began zigzagging around the dozen host cities. Trouble at previous soccer tournaments in Europe made organizers understandably wary.
At the 2000 European Championship, hundreds of rioting Britons were arrested in Belgium. At the 1998 World Cup, German hooligans beat a French policeman to near death and England fans rioted in Marseille. And those are just some of the recent problems.
German police pledged they’d be friendly and open without tolerating trouble. So far, the tough-cop approach rarely has been needed.
On game nights, when host cities are transformed by armies of visiting fans, some police departments have reported fewer calls than on a normal June night – and certainly fewer than when German soccer league matches are played.
The only serious trouble surrounded the Germany-Poland match in Dortmund that many had circled for its hooligan potential, given Germany’s World War II invasion of its neighbour. One clash between officers and what police described as German hooligans resulted in 148 arrests but few injuries. In all, 430 people were arrested Wednesday night, but none was deemed dangerous enough to hold much more than 12 hours.
As Dortmund showed, World Cup organizers have left little to chance.
Working with Polish authorities, German police trolled the tens of thousands of fans and plucked out people they said were known troublemakers. It was part of a broader strategy of prevention.
German authorities set up checks on national borders that normally are open. They welcomed 500 police from 13 countries – including about 80 from Britain and 50 from Poland who had the power to arrest their own nationals. British authorities confiscated passports of known troublemakers so they couldn’t leave.
Violence has been a greater problem outside Germany – even in countries without a team in the 32-nation tournament.
In Thailand, a gunman killed two fans after complaining that their cheering was too loud during a game. In Bosnia, dozens of people were injured, including one from a gunshot, when Croat and Muslim fans collided following Brazil’s win over Croatia. In Bangladesh, fans wielding bamboo sticks attacked an electricity office after power failures interrupted coverage of two matches Friday.
And in England, violence at public screenings forced officials to cancel the showing of matches on big screens in London and Liverpool.
German officials who worried that hooligans shut out of stadiums might cause trouble at the 300 big-screen viewing areas nationwide have been relieved. In downtown Berlin, 500,000 people watched Germany beat Poland 1-0 on Wednesday. There were fewer than 100 arrests.
Nearly all World Cup cities have reported little trouble, surprisingly low arrest numbers and sometimes bewildering descriptions of their streets as oases of calm – aside from partying fans.
»On a normal Sunday there might have been more for the police,» Nuremberg police spokesman Michael Gaengler said after a match between Mexico and Iran, when only 10 people were arrested. »Things are going much better than we had expected.»
Police received a single post-match call reporting a possible crime or suspicious behaviour, compared with an expected 20 on an average Sunday night in June.
»With everybody celebrating,» Gaengler said, »there’s a bit more tolerance, a bit more acceptance.»
It was the same story – just a handful of minor arrests – in Nuremberg after England beat Trinidad and Tobago 2-0 on Thursday to advance to the second round.
And it was even quieter in Leipzig, a city of 500,000 where past hooliganism had raised concerns, as had several attacks on nonwhites in Germany’s former communist east ahead of the tournament.
»The police deserve tremendous praise,» Germany 2006 vice-president Wolfgang Niersbach said after the trouble in Dortmund, »because they recognized the danger and took preventive action.»
BRADLEY S. KLAPPER, APThe Canadian Press(CP)