x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Riot squad ready for football opener

Teams of riot police officers have received special training on how to handle unruly fans at new league matches.

Saudi fans celebrate during the World Cup 2010 qualifying soccer against the UAE, in Abu Dhabi on Sept 10 2008.
Saudi fans celebrate during the World Cup 2010 qualifying soccer against the UAE, in Abu Dhabi on Sept 10 2008.

DUBAI // Teams of riot police officers have received special training on how to handle unruly fans ahead of the launch of the UAE's first fully professional football league on Sunday. Horses and dogs will be available to help deal with trouble in stadiums and marshal large groups of supporters congregating in the streets when games end. Officers have been instructed by French police with World Cup crowd control experience. The preparations reflect the UAE's determination to react quickly to problems involving spectators in and around football grounds. Earlier this week, the sport's world governing body Fifa said it had launched disciplinary proceedings after angry fans threw water and juice-filled bottles at players and officials during the UAE's World Cup qualifying defeat to North Korea in Abu Dhabi. Football in the UAE moves to a higher profile on Sunday, with the curtain-raising Super Cup match between last season's league champions Al Shabab and the President's Cup holders Al Ahli at Dubai's Al Maktoum stadium. The first games in the new Pro League will be played next Friday. Police are ready to meet the challenges posed by the higher profile football will now adopt, said Lt Col Ahmed Khalfan al Mansoori, director of the emergency department at Dubai Police's general department of protective security and emergency. "We have been training with the French police who worked during the World Cup that was held in France," he said. "We are ready to take on the new league." Over the past year, officers from the riot and crowd control unit have attended training courses focusing on stadium control and behaviour. "The police were trained in three special areas: riot control, covering the VIP section and evacuation," said Lt Col Mansoori. "Prior to each match we gather all the information surrounding the teams playing, the fans attending and the stadium, and from there we assess what level of security we need." He added that differing levels of security would be used for different matches, based in part on the importance and potential rivalries of games. Fans misbehaving will be warned and have their details noted before being confined to a police van for the duration of the game. Those arrested for second or subsequent acts of misbehaviour will be prosecuted. Officers will be supported by dogs and horses trained specifically to deal with crowd control and riots within stadiums. The animals have been brought to Dubai from Australia and then given rigorous training involving sound bombs, gas grenades, explosions and panic to ensure that they are able to withstand any reaction from the crowds. The trouble during last Saturday's game between the national side and North Korea was the UAE's first exposure to serious crowd trouble at a football match. The Fifa inquiry, which will determine whether the UAE Football Association should be punished for failing to control supporters, began after officials studied the referee's report. The UAE's game against Saudi Arabia on Wednesday night, which also ended in a 2-1 defeat, saw very little trouble, with the crowd adhering to the spirit of fair play. But soon after Saudi Arabia scored their winning goal, an expensive watch was thrown towards the referee in an incident captured in television footage. Fifa was unable to say yesterday whether the incident could lead to further disciplinary action against the UAE FA. Having watched the outcome of the first match, Dubai Police are taking no chances. "We will be using our horses [and dogs] more as a crowd deterrent, to prevent riots from breaking out," said Lt Col Mansoori. He explained that a wall of horses was more likely to frighten a crowd than a human shield, as people were unsure of the reaction of animals towards unruly behaviour. The protective security and emergency department now has a total of 70 horses, and approximately 40 dogs. "The problems we face here with our crowds are not the same as in the UK," said Lt Col Mansoori. "We do not have 'hooligans'. "Rather, the problems at Dubai football matches begin with a lot of verbal abuse. Within minutes it can either escalate and explode, or it can die down." He said most problems with fans came after the final whistle. "They block the roads, and stay on the streets. If it has been a particularly tense game, they don't want to leave until they have spoken to the manager of the team, and sometimes they try and break into the building to get to him." Other security measures include tougher restrictions on what will be allowed into stadiums. Guns, knives, sharp tools and catapults are already banned, and the authorities have now prohibited bottled drinks including water, glass objects and cigarettes. Plastic cups will be allowed into stadiums, but if supporters wish to drink from the bottle, they will have to do so outside the venue. The police have also changed their uniform, making it more sportslike in appearance. Collared T-shirts and loose trousers are used by officers on foot, whereas those on horseback will be sporting bulletproof flak jackets. "We received many comments last year saying that our uniform was too official and should be adapted to suit the environment," said Lt Col Mansoori. To encourage good behaviour from crowds, police will be visiting a number of schools to advise pupils on appropriate behaviour. Most problems at football matches are caused by young men, between the ages of 14 and 25. @email:nsamaha@thenational.ae