Independence Minutiae: Stadium & Event Safety

(Title Image: Liverpool Echo)

Do you want to stand at a football match? If the answer’s yes and you live in Wales then – unless the UK Government deem otherwise in the future – you’ll only get the opportunity through independence.

Safety at sports grounds has been included as a reserved power in the Wales Bill (soon to be Wales Act 2017) – Section K5 if you want me to be specific.

The National Assembly and Welsh Government will be explicitly barred from legislating or making policy relating to stadium safety. This includes issues such as: safe standing, stadium capacity, stadium licensing/safety certificates and policing at stadiums.

However, the Welsh Government does – AFAIK – retain powers over building control (including stadiums), though these powers are executed by local authorities. Confused?

Tens of thousands of people going to a single place at the same time presents a number of behind-the-scenes logistical challenges. Most of us won’t notice when they go right. When they go wrong, people die.

Current Stadium Policy

Three major sporting disasters in the UK have shaped current stadium policy: the 1971 Ibrox disaster (mass crush caused by negligence), the 1985 Bradford City stadium fire and the 1989 Hillsborough disaster (mass crush caused by negligence). Several laws were passed following the first two, while the post-Hillsborough Taylor Report concluded top-flight football stadiums should be all-seater by 1994. UEFA also requires stadiums used for European club and national team competitions to be all-seater.

In terms of detailed regulations for sport and major event venues, sports stadiums are subject to the Green Guide (pdf), while music venues and festivals have a Purple Guide (pdf). Both are government-backed but independently reviewed and updated every few years.

The guides outline in detail the minimum standards expected for anyone hosting sport or a major event. They also include formulae to work out the safe capacity of a stand, stadium or venue, ways to develop crowd management plans, how to segregate crowds and help determine how long people should be given to leave safely.

Any sports venue that can hold more than 10,000 people (5,000 for football) requires a safety certificate issued by a local authority. These certificates are usually issued subject to an annual inspection by building control officers alongside submission of detailed plans. They normally cost ~£400.

Smaller indoor venues (arenas, concert halls) and outdoor festivals require an events/entertainment licence, particularly if live music is performed in the evening. Again the licences are issued by a local authority. The costs vary, and if they also want to serve alcohol they’ll also need an alcohol licence (Vice Nation: Alcohol).

Powers over stadium safety are devolved to Scotland and Northern Ireland, but both voluntarily implement Green and Purple Guide standards and have a say in the drafting on new guidance. The Welsh Government doesn’t.

In 2014, the Senedd backed a motion calling for “safe standing” to be introduced at top flight football grounds in Wales (Assembly stands up for safe standing). The irony is the person leading the call was Andrew RT Davies AM (Con, South Wales Central), with the powers now explicitly denied Wales by a Conservative UK Government. He hasn’t said much on safe standing since.

As Scotland isn’t explicitly bound by the Taylor Report, at the start of the 2016-17 season, Celtic installed a 2,900-capacity safe standing area with rail seats at Celtic Park. Other Scottish football clubs are actively considering following suit – depending on costs.

Key Challenges

Here’s a list of some of the key things to consider when drafting stadium safety policy – they’ll vary depending on the size of the venue and the type of event obviously.

Crowd control – Getting people to and from the stadium/event as quickly and as safely as possible. It’s usually led by the police. Major events may require more formal measures, like crush barriers, queue systems (such as the system outside Cardiff Central station) and use of police spotters in and amongst the crowd to prevent trouble-making.

Stadium infrastructure – The standard and availability of things such as: ticket barriers, fire escapes, electricity supplies, weather management (to deal with ice and heavy rain), control rooms, CCTV and other entry/exit points. The geography of the area around a venue will need to be considered too; some stadiums may have narrow streets around them which impact how quickly people can move around: the old Vetch and Ninian Park for example.

Event policing – I’ve already mentioned crowd control outside the stadium, but there’s also a need for adequate stewarding and policing inside the venue to pick out trouble-makers, prevent crushing, ensure the safety of athletes and performers, move injured and ill spectators and (at sports grounds) prevent pitch invasions. Sometimes this will require a police presence, backed by voluntary stewards, bouncers and/or professional event management staff.

Counter-terrorism – Major events are a prime target for mass casualty terror attacks and the guides say counter-terrorism measures should be included in emergency plans as long as they don’t compromise spectator safety.

Hooliganism & Crowd Violence – Organised inter-fan violence once described as “The English Disease”. The problem has shifted to eastern Europe, and has receded somewhat in the UK beyond major football derbies. That doesn’t mean it’s been completely eliminated and even exists in the semi-professional pyramid; games between Bangor City and Rhyl have been marred by violence in the past, for example.

It’s not particular to football either. Violence (usually alcohol-fuelled) occurs before and after rugby games, at concerts and at horse racing too.

Also, in some cases the violence may be deliberate and appropriate to the venue – mosh pits and crowd-surfing are generally accepted at metal concerts and big outdoor festivals, but you wouldn’t get away with starting a circle pit at the opera.

Venue Safety & Independence

Theoretically, if/when criminal justice is devolved, these powers will come with it and the Welsh Government will be in the same position as Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The do-minimum scenario is simply to retain the recommendations contained in the Green and Purple Guides and work with the other governments to draft new regulations as and when required. Because health and safety laws are unlikely to diverge all that much, it’s a valid option – but it may not last as policing, criminal justice and building regulations change.

As for setting out a Welsh policy on stadium safety:

  • Safe standing – using rail seats only – should be permitted at licenced top-flight sport venues in Wales, subject to regulations. Those regulations could include: restricting them to one stand, limiting safe standing areas to a certain percentage of the stadium’s overall capacity, restricting their use to home fans only.
  • There’s argument over whether stadium infrastructure requirements should be the domain of the governing body of a sport/league, or determined by nationally-agreed criteria covering all sports. Why should rugby and football stadiums have different criteria, for example?
  • It should be a legal/licensing requirement that stadiums/venues hosting top flight sport in Wales or major indoor concerts have back-up generators (for use during power cuts). There’s no excuse for floodlights to go out for long in this day and age.
  • All major sports and live music venues could be required to have AED’s/defibrillators and stewards trained in how to use them (see also: Kickstarting Welsh Hearts).
  • The stadium/event safety licensing system could be tiered based on the expected size of an audience and the capacity of a venue. Smaller venues (i.e. a pub showing live music, cinemas) could get away with a capacity restriction and appropriate fire exits which might enable them to put on more regular events with less bureaucracy. Larger venues at the higher end (major music festivals, large stadiums) could require both police and fire service inspection and approval annually or before a single event.
  • Create a single accredited vocational course for stewards and door security staff. At the moment stewards need an NVQ Level 2 or equivalent in spectator safety, while bouncers need a Security Industry Authority licence and can’t act as a steward. Creating a single course eligible for both might provide more work opportunities for staff.
  • A statutory formula/compact – whether set in regulations or not – on costs of policing major events. Event organisers and sports clubs will then have an idea of how much policing would cost from the outset and not be subject to lengthy/difficult negotiations which could threaten hosting the event themselves. This follows on from the recommendations of a UK Home Affairs Committee report from 2009.
  • “Bubble matches” – where away supporters are only allowed to attend games using officially sanctioned transport under police escort – should be reviewed. It makes sense to continue the practice on a temporary basis if there’s a recent history of supporter violence, but it shouldn’t be a blanket measure for every game involving two rival teams, particularly if violence is low-key or has receded.