Sports Risk Management

For decades, the game of football (also known as soccer in some places) has been known to be a crowd-puller. Take one tournament for instance, The FIFA World Cup, which is scheduled to happen after every four years. The build up to this tournament is intense, a lot of resources ranging from time, personnel, finances etc are invested just to make this month-long event one worth remembering.

Then we have other tournaments and sporting events such as the UEFA European Football Championship, Africa Cup of Nations, UEFA Champions League, Absa Premiership, English Premiership, Six Nations Rugby, Cricket World Cup, Australian Tennis Open, Formula 1 etc. The list is endless. At all these sporting events, thousands of jubilant fans fill the stadiums to full capacity expecting to experience a moment of a lifetime.

However, what is important to note is that sporting events normally have to deal with terrorism, weather, event type, result, hooliganism, riot, anarchy and stampede risks, only to mention a few. All these risks and others have the capability to disrupt the much loved game but the risk of this happening is very minimal in the eyes of the committed fans.

For example, in the UK, no matter how cold and snowy it becomes, football fans are willing and prepared to ignore the cold weather and throng the stadiums in thousands. The threat and fear of them suffering a cold or getting influenza is nothing compared to the cost of missing the much-loved and beautiful coveted game of football.

However, as we all know, risk is inherent in all aspects of life. Though it is impossible to completely eliminate risk, through careful planning, it can be managed. Just like the business environment, the world of sports is inherently full of risks and these too need to be identified, assessed, monitored and managed.

I deeply regret what happened at the football match in Egypt on Wednesday night. Egypt’s worst soccer violence claimed at least 74 lives in the northern city of Port Said, plunging the nation into rage and prompting protests and clashes with police in the capital. According to reports:

“At least 1000 people were injured in the violence on Wednesday 1 February 2012 when soccer fans invaded the pitch in the Mediterranean city after local team al-Masry beat Cairo’s Al Ahli, Egypt’s most successful club 3-1.

Hundreds of al-Masry supporters surged across the the pitch to the visitors’ end and panicked Ahli fans dashed for exit. But the steel doors were bolted shut and dozens were crushed to death in the stampede”.

What started as a night to enjoy a game of football ended up in disaster. I don’t think many of the fans from both teams saw this coming. As mentioned earlier on, even though risk is inherent in all aspects of life, there is still the need to effectively and efficiently manage it.

This is not the first time a stadium disaster has claimed lives of innocent victims and injured thousands. According to Reuters, the information source company, here is a look at some of the major disasters in soccer stadiums since 1960:

• May 1964 – PERU: In one of the worst ever soccer disasters, more than 300 fans died and 500 were injured in a riot during an Olympic qualifying match in Lima.

• January 1971 – BRITAIN: Sixty-six people died in a crush at Ibrox stadium in Glasgow as they were leaving a match between Rangers and Celtic.

• October 1982 – RUSSIA: Fans were crushed as they left a UEFA Cup tie between Moscow Spartak and Dutch side HFC Haarlem at the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow. Officials from the former Soviet Union did not disclose the tragedy for years. When they did, the authorities gave an official death toll of 66 although the number who died could have been as high as 340.

• May 1985 – BRITAIN: At least 56 people were killed and more than 200 injured when fire broke out in the stands at Bradford.

• May 1985 – BELGIUM: Thirty-nine fans, mostly Italians, died in rioting before the European Cup Final between Italy’s Juventus and English club Liverpool at the Heysel Stadium in Brussels.

• March 1988 – NEPAL: A stampede towards locked exits in a hailstorm at the stadium in Kathmandu killed more than 90 fans.

• April 1989 – BRITAIN: Ninety-six people were killed and at least 200 injured in Britain’s worst sports disaster after a crowd surge crushed packed fans against barriers at the English F.A. Cup semifinal match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at the Hillsborough stadium in Sheffield.

• October 1996 – GUATEMALA: Up to 82 people died when an avalanche of fans tumbled down seats and stairs at a World Cup qualifying match between Guatemala and Costa Rica in Guatemala City.

• April 2001 – SOUTH AFRICA: At least 43 people were crushed to death when fans tried to force their way into Johannesburg’s huge Ellis Park stadium during a top South African league match.

• May 2001 – GHANA: Around 126 people were killed in a stampede at Accra’s main soccer stadium when police fired teargas at rioting fans.

• February 2012 – EGYPT: Fans rioted at the end of a match in Port Said when the local team al-Masry beat Al Ahli, one of Egypt’s most successful clubs. At least 74 people were killed and more than 1,000 people injured.

From the above sporting stadium disasters, we learn that:

1. Every Sports Club must have Risk Assessment: This involves carefully examining what could go wrong and cause harm to the members, fans, property or equipment during club activities. Even though many hazards are unavoidable, it is important that as a club you take satisfactory precautions that the risk of harm is small.

According to (Decker, 2001), a good sport risk management approach involves performing three assessments; (a) Threat Assessment, (b) Vulnerability Assessment and (c) Criticality Assessment. As a sports club manager, performing these assessments will help you:
• Identify the hazards
• Decide who may be harmed and how
• Evaluate the risks and decide precautions
• Record your findings and implement them
• Review your assessment and update it

2. Conducting inspections of the facility is critical: Since most of these stadiums are used week-in-week-out, over time, as a result of pressure exerted on these facilities, they will start to wear out. Regular inspections involve checking and adding lighting as well as enhancing communication networks. If the facilities are not properly attended to, a similar disaster like the October 1996 in Guatamela City would be inevitable.

3. Implementing access controls is necessary: Had the exit in Port Said stadium not been bolted and shut, the loss could have been minimal. It has been noted that, those who died and those who were injured did so because they couldn’t escape the stampede. By taking advantage of technology, sports club managers need to ensure that access to the stadium can be monitored and managed from another secure location. Had this been the case in Egypt, the fans would have easily exited the stadium. Using CCTV security cameras also helps locate problematic sections of the stadium. Access controls also involve checking backpacks and enhancing background checks. Access controls are also important in case of fire.

4. Maintaining close contact with law enforcement representatives regarding possible threats is necessary: Reports coming from Egypt indicate that the build-up to the match was tense but the level of security was thin. Managers need to ensure that there is proper security in terms of police, healthcare practitioners and other law enforcing agents to control the situation should violence escalate.

5. Developing or updating emergency responses and evacuation plans is very important: Risk management is all about being proactive as opposed to being reactive, thus, there is need to have disaster management plans in place at all times. These plans should not be left accumulating dust in cabinets but should regularly be updated. Sports club managers should regularly review their risk registers and perform what-if-analysis to gauge their vulnerability and the criticality of different disaster scenarios.

Above all, we learn that identifying the greatest threats, eliminating and reducing vulnerabilities will help minimize risk at sport events.

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