Guarding the Goal

By Paulo, Manuel | The World Today, June 2004 | Go to article overview

Guarding the Goal


Paulo, Manuel, The World Today


Large gatherings of sports fans and high-profile teams are potential security nightmares. Plans for the August Olympic Games in Greece have been carefully dissected. There has been much less attention given to Euro 2004, the European football championship to be played this month in Portugal.

THE ACUTE THREAT POSED BY terrorism to innocent people around the world has forced the Portuguese authorities organising Euro 2004 to shift their primary security focus from hooliganism to a potential attack. The current international situation makes the championship a major target, especially following the bombings in nearby Madrid on March 11 and the level of international media attention the tournament will receive.

Euro 2004 is a contest between sixteen national teams and 368 players. Millions of fans worldwide are likely to tune in to an event expected to be covered by around eight thousand journalists. Over a million football fans are planning to visit Portugal. The presidents and prime ministers of victorious nations will add to the headaches by arriving to cheer their teams on.

The host nation of some twelve million inhabitants is on track with the promises it made: eight new football grounds have been built, and two other existing stadiums were refurbished at a cost of around $660 million. Some $4.8 billion has been spent altogether.

The crucial question is whether the country can guarantee security to the hundreds of football stars like David Beckham and Luis Figo as well as the fans that will follow their national teams. Even Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) President Lennart Johansson has acknowledged this: 'You can never say that nothing will happen...but the [police] forces and the football associations concerned will do their utmost to see that there will be a friendly championship.' The task may be more difficult because of strike threats from the immigration service and the police.

American ally

Portugal has been a key ally in the United States-led invasion of Iraq and the 'war' on terror. Prime Minister Jose Manuel Durao Barroso hosted a summit for American President George Bush, former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar and British Prime Minister Tony Blair in the Island of Azores prior to the coalition invasion of Iraq, and has sent more than a hundred Republican National Guard (GNR) paramilitaries to southern Iraq.

The attack in Madrid showed that Spain, a nation with a long tradition of combating militant security threats, was unable to prevent the railway bombings. Portuguese Minister of Interior Antonio Figueiredo Lopes noted: 'After March 11, we re-evaluated the risks and immediately upgraded security. security planners are looking at a series of worst-case scenarios, including chemical attacks, subway bombings and suicide hijackings. We're preparing for every eventuality; you have to be ready for the worst.'

General Leonel Carvalho, coordinator of the security commission for the tournament said: 'Football fans visiting Portugal this summer will find a well-organised and safe nation.' The country is undertaking major security operations: special police units are being trained to end any possible hijack crisis, while the army will be on stand-by to offer logistical support to the police and protect transport links.

Ships from the Portuguese navy and fellow NATO nations will monitor the coast. NATO has also been approached to assist with surveillance planes, while the airforce is to patrol with F16 fighter jets. There will also be no-fly zones in areas where national teams are staying.

Portugal will suspend the Schengen agreement on formality-free cross-border travel in order to monitor closely those entering while the tournament is in progress.

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