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Friendly fans like these ones is what German police are hoping forImage: AP

Ahead of World Cup, German Police Prepare for Hooligans

DW staff / AFP (win)
January 25, 2006

German police are busily amassing intelligence from around the world in a bid to prevent this year's football World Cup finals being marred by brawling hooligans.


Expectations are low among Germans that the World Cup will live up to its official slogan, "A Time to Make Friends."

More than three-quarters of people expect hooliganism in the 12 cities where the matches will be played while two-thirds believe fans will clash with police in the stadiums, according to a poll carried out by the TNS Emnid institute.

Such fears are not unfounded -- the most recent World Cup played in Europe, the 1998 tournament in France, was scarred by brawling English fans and an attack by German skinheads which left a French policeman physically and mentally disabled.

The last finals, in Japan and South Korea in 2002, were trouble-free, but most observers attributed that to the fact they were staged far from the traditional European "centers" of hooliganism, such as England and The Netherlands.

High-risk factors

Münchner Oktoberfest - Die Mass Bier soll Sieben Euro kosten
Beer is often cheaper than soft drinks in GermanyImage: AP

The wide availability of cheap beer in Germany, the fact that the country is served by cheap flights from all over Europe and its many shared borders make the 2006 tournament potentially high-risk.

Yet Michael Endler, a high-ranking German police officer and an expert on hooligans from the Office of Criminal Investigation in the western city of Düsseldorf, said there was no reason to panic.

"Not every supporter brandishing a country's flag and holding a glass of beer is going to commit violence," Endler said.

Endler and his staff from the Central Sport Information Unit (ZIS) will play a key role during the finals.

Gathering intelligence

They say the key to preventing violence is intelligence-gathering.

"During the World Cup, we will process between 800 and 1,000 pieces of information from Germany and abroad," Endler said.

WM Sicherheit im Fußballstadion
Police will monitor activities inside the stadiums and keep an eye on potential hooligans outsideImage: AP

Data will be collected centrally and then sent to the police forces in the 16 federal states ahead of each of the 64 matches to allow security arrangements to be planned locally.

"Beyond that there will be officers who know the scene from Germany and abroad reporting on the situation in the stadiums," Endler said.

The unit will swell from its current size of 17 members of staff to around 150 in May and will move to Neuss near Düsseldorf in time for the June 9 kickoff.

Endler's unit was created in 1992 to observe the hooligan scene in Germany because most of the main professional clubs in the country are based in that region. It began working in collaboration with its counterparts abroad for the 2002 World Cup in Asia and the Euro 2004 finals in Portugal.

International cooperation

Diplomatically, Endler refused to be drawn on which countries' fans were considered high-risk.

"Wherever we have the potential for violence, we will be informed by the participating countries shortly before the start of the World Cup," he said. "We will then concentrate on those people."

WM 2006 Fan aus den Niederlanden
Dutch fans have been stocking up on German-style WWII helmets in the Dutch signature color orange that say: "Go Holland, Go!"Image: AP/Bart Coolen

Traditionally, the risk of trouble has come from English, Dutch and German fans, yet recent reports from Poland suggest a radical hooligan fringe is on the rise there, a worrying development considering Poland is one of Germany's neighbors and the two nations have been drawn to play each other in the first round.

The danger of trouble at the world's biggest sporting event is considerable -- in Germany alone, the police believe around 10,000 football fans are prone to violence.

Violence outside stadiums

The union of German police officers meanwhile has warned that many fans from Germany and abroad will seek to pick fights in the host cities, but often far from the stadiums.

Fußball WM - Fußball-WM 2006: Geplanter Fanpark in Frankfurt
Frankfurt is planning to show games on a giant screen floating in the city's Main riverImage: dpa

The 236 giant television screens to be erected around the country, known as Public Viewing sites, to allow non-ticketholders to see matches are considered possible flashpoints.

"I know of no precedent in which there have been so many Public Viewing sites," Endler said.

Nevertheless, he said he was confident that the football would not be overshadowed by fighting fans.

"I can think of no scenario which would give me sleepless nights."

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