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INTERVIEW-Soccer-Sweden must end hooligan threat: former police chief

Source: Reuters - Thu, 3 Apr 2014 00:42 GMT
Author: Reuters
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By Philip O'Connor

STOCKHOLM, April 3 (Reuters) - Football violence in Sweden could drive sponsors away from the game and threatens the sport's long-term future, the country's former national anti-hooliganism coordinator has told Reuters following the death of a fan at the weekend.

The death of father of four Stefan Isaksson has thrust the hooligan problem back into the spotlight in Sweden.

According to police reports, the Djurgarden fan was struck on the head with a blunt instrument before being kicked and beaten as he made his way to see his side take on Helsingborg .

The game went ahead as planned, but was abandoned when his fellow fans invaded the pitch having received reports that he had died in hospital from his injuries.

Bjorn Eriksson, who published the findings of a two-year investigation into sports-related violence, making dozens of recommendations, said it had only been a matter of time before someone died.

"If you've been following it for a long time and note that people regularly hit each other in the head with bottles and fists and weapons and are kicking each other to pieces, the consequences are naturally that it will eventually end very badly, and that's pretty much what happened," he told Reuters.

Soccer violence has hit the headlines several times in recent years, with a slew of matches disrupted and abandoned by fans throwing fireworks and other objects at players and officials, and organised fights between hooligan "firms" taking place away from grounds.

"The number of persons involved in this purely destructive activity is around 650, which is the equivalent of about three percent of (organised) supporters," Eriksson said.

"That means 97 percent have to suffer for the trouble that three percent cause."

THREAT TO GAME

The former police chief said violence threatened the long-term financial health and popularity of soccer in Sweden.

"The problems for football are, number one - it's doubtful how long sponsors will want to sponsor something of this destructive type.

"Number two, if the effect is that families with children no longer want to go to football because they don't feel comfortable, that can be a serious blow to the game in the long run," he added.

Eriksson said that threats from hooligans had also scared "normal people" away from serving on boards.

"There is an infiltration in that way, and it expresses itself in different ways," he says. "One problem is that 40 percent of club directors and chairpersons are threatened every year, and only 18 percent of those threats are reported to the police.

"People leave clubs because they don't want to expose those working as volunteers to this. This is a consequence of normal people being scared away, and that's when these dark forces have a chance to come in."

Eriksson said the authorities had to view soccer violence as a much more serious crime.

"I made around 90 suggestions, but to sum up I think we need a sharpened toolbox in the form of better laws," he says. "It requires that police upgrade these crimes and see them as a threat, in the same way as they do other kinds of organised crime.

"And for the clubs, it's about finding ways to get the support of this 97 percent that like football and nothing else. And the clubs must take a strong stance against these elements, by for example banning people and being very straight about it."

Eriksson said he hoped the shock and revulsion caused by the death of Isaksson on the opening weekend of the season would help bring an end to football violence in Sweden.

"I hope that the people's anger bears fruit in the form of distancing of themselves more strongly and actively working against them (hooligans)," he said.

"And then, at a slower pace, the changing of the laws could become a signal similar to that which was used in England, where they used the expression 'Enough is enough.'" (Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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