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    • Strategic Fight against Violence in Sport should become a Priority

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    • Date: 17 December 2019
      photo: Media Centre
      photo: Media Centre

      So far, the state's strategic response to sports-related violence and hooligan groups has failed to address key challenges, it was highlighted at the event organized by the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy (BCSP) on 17 December 2019, in Belgrade.

      Supporters' groups in Serbia and the violence that accompanies them date back to the 1980s. They emerged as a form of urban movement that had acquired negative characteristics in the coming years, when the stands became recruiting centres for going to war, and later for criminal groups, said discussion moderator Slobodan Georgiev.

      The first National Strategy for Fight against Violence and Misbehavior at Sporting Events took effect in 2013 and expired in 2018. The BCSP research team analysed  the effects of implementing this strategy.

      The number of violent sports-related incidents is higher than reported in the report, the authors explained. There was no response from the highest courts, which is why they had to rely on media reports and fact-checking.

      Effects of the Implementation of the Strategy

      During the implementation of the strategy aimed at combating sport-related violence, 182 violent incidents occurred, 8 of which were fatal. While fewer violent incidents on the stands were recorded, more incidents related to supporters' groups happened on the streets. Killings of leaders and prominent figures of supporters' groups have become more frequent in recent years, said BCSP Researcher Sasa Djordjevic.

      "The increased presence of police forces at the games plays a significant role in reducing violence during sports events. When there are 1,000 to 1,400 police officers in the stands, it is difficult to provoke an incident," said Djordjevic.

      In recent years, there have been almost no violent incidents at international matches. However, the stands are seen as a place where hate speech is allowed. A major lapse of the strategy is the failure to address the issue of racism and nationalism.

      "The institutions did not react even when we had Nazi greetings last year. There was simply no condemnation. It didn't happen even when the war criminals were celebrated on the stands. The only condemnation we have is from UEFA," Djordjevic pointed out.

      Balkan Insight editor Ivana Jeremic noted that members of extreme supporters' groups often engage in other activities, such as private security and drug trafficking.

      "Based on court judgments, we see the connection between extreme supporters' groups and crime. Today, members of these groups have either delayed going to jail or are forgiven for not showing up to trials," said Djordjevic.

      During the analysed five-year period, 1,700 criminal charges were filed for violent behaviour at a sports event, of which more than 1,000 were filed by police. A quarter ended as an indictment, while only four percent of the cases had investigations ordered.

      "We see that more than a third of criminal charges are dismissed and that the prosecution seeks to resolve these cases primarily through a plea agreement. That sends a very bad message," Djordjevic highlighted.

      The study found that violence often included returnees, many of whom received suspended sentences, Jeremic said.

      Connections of Hooligans with People in Power

      There are clear indications that an informal agreement between the current government and supporters' groups exists, speakers said. This was evident after 2014 when the Pride Parade was held in Belgrade for the first time without hooligan attacks. Jeremic and Djordjevic explained that it is unclear how such a radical change occurred suddenly.

      "We can agree that the stands are more peaceful than, say, the 1990s, but we still don't know what the exact reason is. For example, in 2017, there was a huge fight at the Partizan Stadium, which was attended by people from other countries, and the state was not ready for that," Jeremic said.

      Jeremic cited uncertainty as the biggest problem, as the public does not know if violent behaviour of supporters' groups will re-emerge. The question is whether the problem has been resolved or it has been covered up.

      "The moment the hooligans don't receive what they have been promised, the problem will arise again," Jeremic concluded.

      Next steps?

      The main conclusion is that the National Strategy for Fight against Violence and Misbehavior at Sporting Events has remained only on paper, as no coordinated system for the suppression of violence was put in place. For change to take place, the role of the media is significant, as well as cooperation with the competent institutions, which should openly share all the necessary information, so that the real supporters can react and prevent negative behaviours. Working with minors is also important because they are at risk of accepting violent behaviour as a model.

      "Young people see sports teams' supporters as idols, they look up to them, so it's necessary to work with them in the hope of preventing them from taking on violent patterns and using them in the future," Jeremic said.

      Violence in sports stands has become a part of the sports culture, and this is one of the main problems that the state needs to combat strategically.

      The research and organization of the discussion are supported by the OSCE Mission to Serbia through the project "Prevention of Violence in Sport". The views expressed at the event are exclusively those of the speakers and do not reflect the views of the OSCE Mission to Serbia.
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