The impact of World Cup 98 on law enforcement agencies

Paper given at the 14th Australian and New Zealand Society of Criminology Annual Conference in Perth
27th-30th September 1999.

Benoit Dupont
Lecturer in Policing Studies
Charles Sturt University

Current Email:

In the summer of 98, France hosted one of the major sports events of this century, with a cumulative TV audience close to 40 billion people. This showcase to the world, with huge potential economical windfalls and political implications, mobilised the resources of all national law enforcement agencies. It also prompted interesting international cooperation initiatives with foreign police services. This paper seeks to describe the security arrangements that were put in place to meet this challenge. It will try to identify best practices, but also organisational failures, in the fields of information management, crowd control, anti terrorist activities, etc. The second part of this presentation will then assess the long-term impact, if any is to be found, of such an event, on participating law enforcement agencies and their perception by the public.

Presentation of the event and its far reaching implications

32 teams, 64 games played in 10 cities, 2.500.000 tickets sold, 500.000 foreign spectators (plus thousands more without tickets), 37 billions television viewers in cumulative figures (1.7 billion for the final alone) and 12 000 journalists from all over the world : such are some of the mind boggling numbers that can give a rough idea of the immensity of World Cup 98.

Costing billions in stadium and transportation infrastructure to the French taxpayer, the potential windfalls were even larger. Primary benefits included the money spent by the hundreds of thousands of supporters that swamped the country, often being charged two or three times the usual prices. Secondary benefits develop over a longer period of time. They reside in the real or supposed capacity of the event to build or reinforce the image of the organising country as a popular and affordable holiday destination.

But apart from a monetary perspective, an event such as the World Cup or the Olympics is also a unique image building opportunity, with national and international political implications (Hill, 1996:1). The omnipresence of the media, from universally recognised CNN figures to the most obscure non-accredited part time journalist, is in no way stranger to the phenomenon. This saturation coverage ensures that no stone is left unturned. For example, the quasi religious following of some teams is also a very powerful trigger to nationalist sentiments, bordering sometimes on the fanatical. Sport can then become a weapon in the hands of governments. In this regard, the game played in Lyon between the United States and Iran, two old foes, had all the necessary ingredients for the creation of an international incident. Instead, the two countries used it as a diplomatic tool for renewing ties. The presence of representatives from Croatia and Yugoslavia was also a cause of concern. At the level of individual countries, such a competition can either help to project a positive image abroad or aid governments to attain social and political objectives on the homefront (Hill, 1996:2). This is particularly so for the organising country: the victory over Brazil cemented temporarily an otherwise fragmented French society and helped both the President and the Prime Minister (representing opposing parties) to increase their approval ratings by more than 15% !

Risks and threats

But not only countries in their own rights view the World Cup as a valuable political arena. Large crowds of innocent spectators constitute a perfect pool of victims whose suffering can be broadcasted instantaneously to a global captive audience. The Munich hostage crisis and the Atlanta bombing come to our mind. The heavy concentration of armed political conflicts in Europe and at its periphery (Ireland, Basque country, Corsica, Algeria, former Yougoslavia) and the freedom of circulation granted inside the European Union provided the first challenge to the World Cup security.

The second major obstacle to the organisers’ serenity was a phenomenon common to European football: hooliganism. Although the object of this paper is not to define and to examine hooliganism (Dunning, Murphy & Williams, 1988), it is crucial to understand that the new governance of security in relation to large international soccer competitions is a direct response to this issue. First identified in the United Kingdom at the beginning of the century, football hooliganism started to export itself in the 60’s to the continent, along with the development of European championships. In 1984, the Council of Europe made its first recommendations, but the turning point was certainly the 39 victims of the Heysel stadium incident in Belgium, in 1985. British soccer clubs were banned from all international competitions and a European convention on violence was signed as a result. In response to this humiliation, the Thatcher government implemented overly repressive measures that created the conditions for the Hillsborough stadium catastrophe in 1989, which caused 95 deaths: trapped outside the arena minutes before the start of an English Cup semi-final because of draconian filtering procedures, 3000 people decided to make their way inside by force, resulting in the deadly crushing of supporters against security barriers. The Taylor report (1990), by its fair distribution of responsibilities in the tragedy, allowed a pragmatic and balanced approach in the fight against hooliganism to emerge. The overall success of Euro 96 in terms of security validated this approach.

The security of the World Cup was therefore tailored to meet these two threats. But whereas the terrorist risk was addressed in a traditional fashion by specialised French law enforcement agencies used to fight it on a daily basis, the hooligan risk was dealt with in more innovative ways that will have a lasting impact on the governance of security. In the remaining of our presentation, we will examine the new legal framework that materialised this new approach, overview the main features of the security arrangements and identify their long term effects on French law enforcement.

A new legal distribution of public and private responsibilities

Although the World Cup was to be foremost an enjoyable and relaxed moment for all spectators, two statute laws voted in 1984 and 1998 spelled out the sentences and special "fast track" procedures associated with unruly and violent behaviour during sports events: the introduction inside a stadium of weapons or firecrackers, the provocation to violence against referees or players, the introduction and consumption of alcohol, the exhibition of racist or xenophobic insignias, the throwing of projectiles on the playing field and the invasion of the turf were to be punished by sentences of up to three years imprisonment and 25,000 AUD$ fines. These laws, keeping with the tradition of the French inquisitorial system, allow for the presence of public prosecutors and magistrates inside the sports arenas and the instantaneous rendering of sentences with proofs provided by CCTV systems. During the 3 weeks of the World Cup, 167 people from 18 countries were charged and convicted, 106 of whom on the spot. Moreover, special security legislation made possible the refusal of entry on French territory for 1539 suspected hooligans.

This repressive legislation was completed by section 23 of the 1995 Security Act, that stated that arrangements should be made for the provision of security by the organisers of large and for-profit sports, recreational or cultural meetings. It amounted to a cultural revolution for police services that were never allowed by the government to share the responsibility of order maintenance in public places, due to heavy historical and political factors. Its primary justification lies in the growing financial burden that such events put on society and the necessary contribution of entrepreneurs whose activities generate risks of troubles or disorder. This new public policy is a facet of the "security coproduction" terminology which seeks to reallocate the state internal security obligations to local government and civil society. The new distribution of responsibilities implied that the organisers had to supply security inside sports areas, whereas the state remained in charge of providing general security outside these areas.

Inside the stadiums, following the same path than the 1996 European championship, 5,500 stewards (one per hundred spectators) welcomed, checked, seated and provided assistance to spectators. One third were private security professionals, the rest being volunteers that received special training under the supervision of the organising committee. Their public safety mission stopped short of the use of any kind of coercive force, and in case of trouble, they were to alert the small number of plainclothes police officers present inside the stadiums. Outside the stadiums, more than 35,000 officers from the National Police and the Gendarmerie participated in tasks ranging from VIP Protection and crowd control to intelligence gathering. They represented about one sixth of the 220,000 strong law enforcement agencies. As most of those officers were drawn from riot police units, the disturbance to general duties roles and the manning of police stations was minimal. Nevertheless, the impact on certain specialist sections of a huge overtime backlog was important and highlighted by police unions. It is to be added that emergency services provided more than 1000 doctors and first aid personnel.

This dual security model raised a few concerns: the extent of powers given to stewards are fairly restrictive and leave the inspection of bags and body searches to police officers. In its drive towards a growing privatised handling of security, the French Home Office has made it very clear that it would consider the inclusion of inspections rights given by a spectator to an organiser by means of a contractual bond. This principle already applies to security checks at airports, but could open the door to a much wider array of situations were private property rights would be relinquished. A second thread of problems arose from the vagueness associated with the physical criteria defining the respective spheres of responsibility. Moreover, although not directly responsible for the security inside stadiums, the state fully retained its supervisory role by setting up a central coordination post in every stadium.

The five forms of interdependence between public and private police identified by Gary Marx a decade ago (1987:172) offer a very useful theoretical framework. He observed five trends in investigations which could be applied to more generic forms of interdependence:

Far from being mutually exclusives, it appears that all of the five forms were used at one point or the other. However, this model needs to be placed in the French perspective: the historical and political factors that forged this centralised state also participated in the retaining of a strong overall supervisory role.

An emphasis on preventive regulation driven by market forces

Aside from the above conspicuous security measures, more subtle preventive steps were taken, to ensure the safety of spectators and the neutralization of hooligans. Soccer is at the forefront of a cultural and economical shift in sports. Globalised media empires have created huge audiences that transcend cultures and borders. The sport arena with its winners and losers, heroes and villains, passion and suspense, does not need any subtitle to be simultaneously marketed to billions and incarnates the smallest common denominator of TV entertainment. Teams or franchises float their shares on stock exchanges around the world, and have their profits analysed under the microscope of financial newspapers. Team images attain the status of brands which diversify their lines of products. In that perspective, games that can accommodate only a finite number of spectators must attract the ones with the highest disposable income, in order to improve the bottom line. The disappearance of cheap non-seated tickets, the necessity to dispose of a credit card in order to acquire relatively expensive seats or to invest in a season’s ticket ensured that the middle classes effectively replaced the former predominant working classes in the stands. Stadium security then become a major selling argument, but must reinvent itself, as the usual display of uniforms creates itself a sense of insecurity.

CCTV systems epitomize the new preventive patterns of security inside privately owned or operated public places. The World Cup made it compulsory for all stadiums in which games were played to be equipped with the latest video equipment. It follows the trend set by the 1995 Security Act which recommended its use by local governments. As a means of social control, CCTV systems offer 3 advantages. First, they offer to the police a visualization of public order, and by the mediation of giant screens relaying the images to the crowds, they leave no ambiguity about it. How not to refer to Foucault here, who theorised the efficiency of observation techniques as disciplinarian instruments (1975: 201). Secondly, it has a reassuring effect on the public and the stewards, most of whom are young and inexperienced in the exercise of order maintenance. Finally, it allows the presentation of admissible evidence to the courts in what would be very volatile and ambiguous situations.

The second preventive step taken was related to ticketing. The use of state-of-the-art counterfeit proof techniques, the delivery of tickets only a few weeks prior to the game and the limitation of tickets available per person did not prevent widespread copying and black market resale emanating both from inside the organising committee and from opportunistic criminals all over the world. In that respect, the issuing of tickets was a failure. Yet, the tickets were used as preventive tools which also could be turned quite easily into surveillance devices. The reverse side of each ticket was adorned with security instructions and tips. The mention of the owner’s name on the ticket was to make individuals aware of their responsibilities and dissuade them of any uncivilised behaviour. In case of such an extremity, the centralisation of computerised data linking the profile of the buyers with their seat number and the team they supported, coupled with the CCTV systems mentioned above, could embody the modern panopticon.

Finally, a third initiative in preventive security was the construction of tent villages in the proximity of stadiums. They were supposed to cater for supporters and instill a festive atmosphere by promoting a variety of themes reminding them of their home country. If they permitted the fraternising of traditionally extrovert supporters like Brazilians with other groups, they failed to defuse the violence that erupted between English supporters and young North African immigrants in Marseilles. In that particular case, the village offered a rallying point where all converged for a much expected confrontation.

But ironically enough, the predominance of new "family oriented - female friendly" crowds objectively reduce the need for security inside the arena, whilst indirectly and unintendedly participating in the transformation of the hooligans phenomenon.

Slowly rejected outside the stadiums, the hooligans apply their organisational skills to the urban environment and mount guerrilla-like operations aimed at the police. An example of these new tactics was seen during the World Cup when a gendarme was conscientiously beaten by a mob of German supporters. The investigations established that hooligans from more than 30 cities had organised to meet in Lens for this game, and acted in a systematic and coordinated manner against the police for about 45 minutes. The growing use of the Internet to prepare such incidents has also been of some concern for law enforcement agencies. Moreover, European Union integration and the freedom of movement between member countries, added to the availability of affordable international plane travel, have made territorial limits irrelevant in the security planning of sports events of this magnitude.

A new degree of international police cooperation

At the preparatory stage, the 31 countries that qualified for the World Cup were involved in the intelligence gathering process and briefed on the security arrangements. The presence of a permanent French police liaison officer in 19 of these countries ensured that an established and reliable working relationship could be relied upon. At the European level, the K4 Committee provided the structure in charge of the implementation of the various recommendations and resolutions passed by the Council of the European Union (15 justice and police ministers). Among them, were provisions for the exchange of information on football hooligans, exclusion from stadiums and media policy. During the competition, each country was represented by a group of police liaison officers located within the central command post. Their role was to provide timely risk assessment, facilitate the flow of knowledge between police information systems and offer advice with regard to the handling of particular events involving their nationals. On the ground, mixed modules composed of undercover French and foreign police officers, mostly spotters, were to identify and localise hooligans, make contact with them and if necessary, assist local police forces. Despite the diversity of approaches and sometimes the lack of familiarity with hooliganism, this multi-level and highly responsive cooperation structure guaranteed uninterrupted official contacts among countries involved. Pursuant to the World Cup, the Council of the European Union adopted a resolution (1999/C 196/01):

"setting down the European framework for police forces in the member states (with regards to) the content and scope of police cooperation, police relations with the media, cooperation with those supervising fans and stadium policy". The resolution contains a handbook concerning international police cooperation and measures to prevent and control violence and disturbances in connection with international football matches. This handbook is set to become a best practice landmark in Europe and across the world. As a matter of fact, it is likely to become a model for the next World Cup in Japan and Korea, as the 98 World Cup chairman (who also supervised security for the 92 Winter Olympics) has been appointed by the Japanese-Korean Organising Committee.


By delegating a vast array of security responsibilities to the private sector, and relying on a growing use of international cooperation measures, the French law enforcement agencies have tried to circumscribe their participation to the 98 World Cup effort to their core competencies: the crowd control of public spaces and the fight against terrorism. It does not mean that they relinquished their prerogatives, but rather that the coordinating role superseded the operational role. In spite of that, the human resources committed to this event still amounted to three quarters of all Australian police forces. This effort to reform the governance of security in relation to large public events was not limited to the duration of the World Cup, and is likely to be refined in the coming years: the legal framework is in place at the national and international levels, the World Cup proved it was a sustainable model and the public seems to approve this scaled down version of the police presence. But this new model is not devoid of risks: Ericson and Haggerty (1997:436) have highlighted that this new embedded and subtle form of coercion is not experienced as coercion at all by the public, resulting in the slow decline of freedoms and liberties. The commodification and the pacification of games could also mean the end of football’s social integration role. Young men from the lower classes would then be left to express their violence in places where social and police controls are weaker. The surge of fights in rural England and Spanish seaside resorts seems to confirm this pattern. A correlative analysis of domestic violence incidents and televised finals games could also confirm, or refute, this hypothesis.


Denning, E., Murphy, P. & Williams, J. (1988). The roots of football hooliganism. Routledge: London.

Ericson, R. & Haggerty, K. (1997). Policing the risk society. Clarendon: Oxford.

Foucault, M. (1975). Surveiller et punir. Gallimard: Paris.

Hill, C. (1996). Olympic politics. 2nd ed. Manchester University Press: Manchester.

Marx, G. (1987). "The interweaving of public and private police in undervover work". In C. Shearing & P. Stenning (eds.). Private policing. pp 172-193. Sage: Newbury Park.

Taylor, L. J. (1990). The Hillsborough stadium disaster, April 15th 1989, Final Report. HMSO: London.