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Fans of the World Unite at an International Congress in Bonn

Fan participation was the name of the game at the Fans for Football conference in Bonn. What expectations do fans have for the World Cup? What events are on the game plan? And what fan fears need to be overcome?

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Fan leaders from around the world prepping for the World Cup

Soccer teams from thirty-two nations are warming up for the 2006 World Cup in Germany -- and so are their fans. On April 6 and 7, fan group representatives from all over the world met in Bonn at the international congress Fans For Football, sponsored by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, to share and compare how their countries will turn the Cup into a festival of cultures.

For Kevin Miles, the slogan of the 2006 World Cup -- "A time to make friends" -- could not be more fitting. The head of the British Football Supporters Federation said that soccer fans in England already feel like they've been welcomed to Germany.

WM Fußball Fantreffen in Bonn Kevin Miles

Kevin Miles from the British Football Supporters Federation

"I think it is interesting to compare this slogan with the World Cup in France eight years ago," Miles said. "In 2000, the French and British governments spent over 1.5 million British pounds (2.15 million euros) on the advertising campaign 'No ticket, no travel' to make sure that only British fans with stadium tickets traveled to France. Germany has invited soccer fans to participate in World Cup events, whether they have tickets to a game or not."

Stadium feeling on the market square

Fußballübertragung in Hannover

Over 7 million expected for public viewing events

Conference participants agreed that public viewing venues, i.e. big screen televisions with live game coverage set up in market squares, parks and bars throughout Germany, are the key to the fans.

For Thomas Schneider, head of the German fan coordination group KOS, public viewing is a huge step forward and an enormous challenge. "We expect over seven million fans to participate in public viewing events in the twelve World Cup cities alone," Schneider said. "So we will have Fan Embassies where foreign fans can get everything from accommodation information to the occasional band-aid."

Fans: Security Risk or Team Player?

The idea of millions of rival soccer enthusiasts watching television in downtown Munich, Cologne or Berlin is both exciting and a terrifying. Willy Kösling, deputy head of the National Security Task Force in the Federal Ministry of the Interior, said that the police in Germany are prepared. "We aren't worried about the fans as a security risk," Kösling said. "We need the fans to help deescalate the small groups of those inclined to violence."

Fußball-WM 2006 Spielort Leipzig Zentralstadion

German police: Keeping an eye on the game and the fans

However, conference participants complained that the decentralized German police have fans abroad worried. Regulations and security measures differ from state to state and stadium to stadium, they say. Some of the official fan areas in the cities will have overt police presence, security check-points and a long list of dos and don'ts attached to them.

English fans at the conference said they fear that Brits may be singled out as hooligans. But Willy Kösling from the Ministry of the Interior said that police profiling measures for potential hooligans will keep them from entering the country. And foreign fans, he said, will not notice any difference in police behavior, whether they are in Kassel and Cologne. "Our policy is to coordinate all of our activities as best possible," Kösling said. "The most important thing we have been teaching our officers -- take everything with a smile."

Wanted: Housemates, girl gamers, fan forwards

One of the focal points of the Fans for Football congress was to help fan groups bring fans from competing teams together. One initiative, A Roof For Fans, has set up a database to connect German fans with their foreign soccer soul-mates. Anyone willing to offer a room, a bed or just space on the floor to crash during the World Cup can sign up. Of the 340 accommodations online, more than 40 percent are free of charge, said Peter Schüngel, head of the initiative.

Vorstellung der WM-Trikots Sport Fussball WM06

Fans want to show their colors, too

Another program, "Kick It", will bring teenage girls from Morocco, Egypt, Poland and Germany to Leipzig to make friends and kick up some turf in a soccer camp. And in Kassel, twenty-three international fan soccer teams will be competing against one another for their own Fans' World Cup.

Siegbert Heir from the Friedrich Ebert Foundation summed it up. "The fans are not just on the sidelines at the World Cup in Germany," he said. "Everyone thinks that soccer teams have 11 players. They don't. The fans are the 12th player on the team. And without them, the games wouldn't be the same."

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