The way in which the Swedish Football Association (SvFF) is following up on the events and matches of the top clubs in the Swedish football stadiums has in recent years moved from a punishment system that has been strictly punitive to a system focusing on quality assurance and development. This change, which was initiated by Malmö FF and the Swedish Professional Football Leagues, initially sparked many discussions but has over time proved to have several positive effects. By shifting the focus more on how to work together to solve the problems that may arise at an event, brings more positive outcomes instead of simply punishing and condemning the actions.
It is the season of 2013. A pear is thrown in from the stands of an agitated Stockholm Stadium, the home ground of Djurgårdens IF, and hits Gbenga Arokoyo of Mjällby AIF. A riot follows which forces the referee to interrupt the match and consequently take the decision to end the match prematurely. The spectators are all sent home in the early spring evening. Afterwards, the following chain of events unfolds:
- SvFF condemns the incident through its Disciplinary Committee, by saying that there will be both fines and other measures taken against clubs and supporters in general.
- Djurgården’s supporter association “Järnkaminerna”, which initially acted proactively by tracking down the spectators who threw the pear, is annoyed by the accusations and starts a war of words against SvFF.
- Djurgårdens IF and Mjällby AIF both start a war of words over who is to blame for the incident occurred
- The supporters and the Swedish Football Supporters Union (SFSU) condemn SvFF
- The Disciplinary Committee of the national association decides that the match will be resumed from where it was interrupted
- The decision is appealed, and the Appeals Board comes to the conclusion that the match should not be resumed
- Djurgårdens IF is deemed to be responsible for its supporters and receives a fine
The abovementioned story is an example of what could happen when a situation might degenerate in connection with football. When the entire system was challenged and needed to function at its best, everyone blamed each other, and fines were handed out. No progress was being made on the core issue, and the individuals who initiated the problems were left completely out of focus.
Football in Sweden caught the eye of both UEFA and the rest of the world. At the same time, the clubs realised they had no power to influence the problems that were continuously arising around the matches of the league, and this led to some clubs even cutting back on their security apparatus, instead of strengthening it, in order to afford the inevitable fines. The clubs realised that the difficult and costly job of being responsible for the actions of their supporters would still lead to them being fined when something happened, and they found a way to save money by reducing the security around the games. Neither in PR terms nor in practical terms did football get the desired effects. The real perpetrators on the other hand, escaped their responsibility as the offenses did not lead to prosecution when chargers were dropped.
A change of mindset
Since 2015, Swedish football has been working in a different way to follow up on current regulations. It all started in 2013 when Malmö FF submitted a petition to SvFF, that the system of fines does not lead to any development, meaning that the system of handing out fines did not render the desired effects of improved safety work. The money that was brought in to SvFF through the fines ended up in the national association’s reserves and was not used for the continued work of improving security at the stadiums. The petition of Malmö FF eventually led to the Swedish Professional Football Leagues being commissioned by its clubs to pursue the matter so that Swedish football could change its regulations from having a strict responsibility to negligence. This means that the focus is now turned to ensuring the quality of the events instead of focusing on ineffective fines and condemnations.
The assignments of match delegates also changed by shifting the focus from being an inspector with an assignment to report errors, to helping and supporting the clubs in their event management and in the safety work around the matches. The work was now focused more on measures and improvements, but also on reports and notifications in the rare cases where the regulations were not followed despite repeated warnings. The reports in their turn led to demands for further improvements and concrete action plans. The aim is for an incident or a breach to be rectified immediately by the club in question before the next match, or an action plan must be made if a more complex solution is required. The National Ombudsman is following up on how SvFF handles this at future events and provides feedback to the clubs. If the incidents or breaches are being repeated, the club would risk penalties, or in some cases if there are more serious offenses occurring, it can go directly to punishment.
It is important to also note that a perceived inaction of a club may result in a penalty even if nothing has happened. Carelessness, for instance with an emergency exit door locked is not only a problem that must be noticed in case of an emergency, but it must be ensured at every single public event in the stadium that the door is not blocked or locked. If it is found to be locked, the club will receive a remark demanding action which is to be followed up.
However, a club can be left unpunished in the case where something has happened, but it can be proven that the club is not at fault. On the other hand, it is the responsibility of the club before the next match to, as far as is reasonably possible, ensure an improvement to prevent the incident to be repeated.
Two National Representatives were appointed to lead this work. An Operational Ombudsman who works full time close to the clubs and a Legal Ombudsman, who compiles and runs the cases that still need to be scrutinised. After the implementation of the reform, the estimation is that 90-95% of all cases are being resolved directly with the clubs.
Under the umbrella of the Ombudsman, there are match delegates monitoring all 480 matches in both Allsvenskan and Superettan. A delegate report is being made from every single match with a summary of the event and the security work being assessed. Often, improvements are suggested, and any shortcomings are pointed out and consequently reported depending on the nature of the incidents. The occurrences are followed up by the next delegate and are not written off completely until they have been resolved or taken care of by the next instance.
Today this system is fully operating with a focus on improving and developing the events around the games of the two leagues and we are all on the same page. For us, it is not interesting whose fault it is if something happens, but it is important that everyone is involved to ensure the quality of each match event.
A very important feature that was brought in back in 2012 was the Supporter Liaison Officers (SLO). Supporter representatives who often came from the own fan groups were given the task of being the link in between the clubs, the police authority and other supporters in a decisive way. The Swedish Professional Football Leagues were able to take over this work when it had already commenced and encouraged an investment in the SLO project under the campaign name “Stand Up For Football” together with, among others, Svenska Spel, TV4, Swedbank and Deloitte. Today, in principle, all the Swedish Professional Football Leagues’ clubs have an SLO.
Follow-up and analysis
After each football match has been completed, a follow-up with subsequent work is carried out by the clubs together with all interested parties of the match event.
Often this work is based on the match delegate report written after the match. In the case of any special events or incidents, an Analysis Group is appointed to look at what was positive and negative, how to avoid it from happening again, what the overall event looked like, what has been done / what could have been done, if the tactics were right and so on. The Analysis Group looks over the entire chain of events around the match in order to make a final quality assurance.
The Analysis Group usually consists of people from the club in question, SvFF, the Swedish Professional Football Leagues and the Police authority. The SLO and representatives of the supporters’ union SFSU are also consulted if necessary. The task is not to find out who made what mistake, but rather to ensure that an improvement is being made, that lessons are learned and that measures are implemented throughout the system to avoid it from happening again.
In 2017, another system was introduced, which is called the mentorship system. This system offers a specially appointed match delegate who acts as the mentor to support a club in all issues that may arise during a league season. The system was well-received initially but is still to be fully evaluated.
Any disciplinary assessments only occur in the event of a serious offense or if the club ignore the suggested solution to problems that have occurred. Overall, less than 5% of all cases end up with a disciplinary assessment and a punishment. Most cases are now being resolved directly in consultations with the club and everything is documented, and quality is assured.
The result so far is that significantly fewer fines are being handed out, and there is a significantly better control and cooperation by all parties in connection with the match event. Yet, some problems still remain. The work to ensure security improvements around the matches is not entirely finished in any way, but the entire issue has improved compared to how it was a few years ago. Some things are difficult and cannot be resolved by themselves through the system, but the attitude of not even being able to discuss the issues is gone.
In some places, the dialogue has become so successful that clubs have begun to discuss in between themselves how to better improve the stadium and match environment. An example of this is the top clubs in Stockholm together starting the initiative “Football without being drunk”. This initiative is not regulated of enforced, but it is a good example of how the dialogue between different actors clearly can give results, going beyond what the regulations require.
The removal of the fine system is not to be seen as a sign of weakness, but in fact, football has a much more scrutinised system now, which is more efficient and constantly developing. In the past, fines were the only measure and we had nothing more.
By looking at the statistics, in relation to the growing audience, the disturbances have decreased. The usage of bangers is almost completely gone and violence in the stands of the stadiums is very uncommon. The total of spectators in the stadiums have been steadily increasing in the years before the pandemic and the relationship with the supporters is better than ever.
How the responsibilities are being distributed in the work around safety issues
The work surrounding safety issues is divided in such a way that disturbances and other incidents happening inside the stadiums are the responsibility of the clubs. Any criminal offences ultimately end up in the hands of the police authorities, and the police is also in charge of the public order management before and after the match in the surrounding city. Naturally, collaboration is vital. A good example to this is the episode happening in Helsingborg when the club was relegated, and a number of individuals stormed the pitch. In the aftermath, the police, prosecutors, and the club cooperated in an exemplary manner. Each individual on the pitch was identified, prosecuted and convicted of violating the law of order. The accused pitch invaders were sentenced to both fines and banned from accessing the stadium.
The security work is a balancing act between what the club is good at and what others are better at, as well as what legal rights and obligations each party has. For a match event to be successful, a well-developed collaboration between several different actors is required. When a football match is being arranged by a club, approx. between 100 to 1000 people are involved in the work surrounding event. The club’s own staff at a big city derby match can be to up to 800 people.
The organiser is therefore responsible for keeping order and for the security inside the stadium and the police authority is responsible for taking care of the public order in the city. The previously much-debated police costs stem primarily from the effort and the capacity the police authority is required in order to control the public order, when fans and spectators are on their way to or from the match. This is not linked to the security deployed inside the stadiums, as many might believe, since the club is in charge of the stadium safety of their own events.
But, for various reasons, sometimes football is left to face more serious situations, which requires help and support from other parts of society. In the same way that the police authority is protecting freedom of expression and ensures safety from attacks during demonstrations, football sometimes needs to be protected against criminal acts and attacks at football matches.
Events that may not be possible to prevent, or act against when they occur can be followed up with videos, witnesses, identification, and suspension. The collaboration and interaction between clubs, the police authority, prosecutors, and courts must continue for the INDIVIDUALS who commit crimes in connection with football matches to be identified and brought to justice. Collective punishments and condemnations are counterproductive as an absolute majority of all matches and all supporters are completely without guilt and not causing any problems.
Only the future will tell how the safety in football will improve. For the time being, we are still in the spotlight of UEFA and the rest of Europe. But – on the contrary to how it was before – now they look at us as a Best Practice!
We have not stopped taking our responsibility – instead, we have started to take an even greater share of the responsibility – and we will continue to do so. Our spectators and supporters are the ones turning the football match into a festival of song, cheer and colourful displays of love of their own club, and we ARE mirroring the Swedish society of today. Football is for the people, not a selected few.