Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Europe Puts Hooligans on Notice

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Europe Puts Hooligans on Notice

Article excerpt

When the final whistle blows at soccer matches across Europe, it often serves as a signal for a small core of ardent fans to take over center stage. Clad in their team colors and pumped full of alcohol, these spectators go on rampages against supporters of rival clubs in bloody urban warfare, euphemistically known as the "third halftime."

For this year's European soccer championships, hosted by Belgium and the Netherlands, authorities are taking unprecedented measures against so-called soccer hooligans. And in doing so, Germany and England - Europe's two leading exporters of this behavior and whose teams meet on the field Saturday - are testing the limits of civil liberties. Both countries have passed new laws to ban known rowdies from traveling to the games. Germany has sent squads of police to keep hooligans from crossing the borders. And British officials say they will cut off the welfare benefits of any unemployed workers spotted at the Euro 2000 matches.

Earlier this year, two Liverpool fans were stabbed to death by local fans in Istanbul. When English and Turkish clubs met last month in Denmark, hooligans raged again. Since the Euro 2000 tournament began last weekend, there have been sporadic clashes between fans and police, despite unusually tight security measures.

Germany has taken the most extreme precautions, changing its passport law, prohibiting hundreds of known rowdies from traveling abroad, and stationing a thousand police on the border with Holland and Belgium, where there are usually no passport controls.

"We support these measures because we're still standing under the shadow of France '98," says Michael Novak of the German Soccer Federation, referring to the near-fatal beating of a French policeman by German hooligans during the last World Cup. "It can't happen again that German citizens abroad behave in such a way and injure people life-threateningly."

This time around, says Mr. Novak, the preparations have been more thorough.

Berlin recently amended the German passport law, making a hooligan's violation of a travel ban a criminal act. Prosecutors no longer have to prove whether or not that person committed a crime while abroad. Of course, German authorities cannot physically prevent a known hooligan from leaving the country. But several hundred violent fans have been personally warned by officers and are being required to report periodically to local police stations during the soccer tournament.

The rise of hooliganism has spurred police from different European nations to work together much more closely than in the past. In February, the interior ministries of Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands hammered out a special security plan for Euro 2000, including the presence of German policemen in the host countries. "The point isn't that security dominates sports," said German Interior Ministry official Rdiger Kass. …

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