The problems surrounding the cup final seem to imply that the government has too few legal means to tackle hooliganism. However, Professor J.G. Brouwer of General Law Studies expects the ‘football act’ currently in preparation to do little or nothing to change this situation. Will all matches soon have to be played without any away supporters?
After a great deal of humming and hawing, the decision has at last been made – Feijenoord and Ajax are not going to play one cup final but two, each only with home supporters. This is because the KNVB cannot do without a cup winner, the supporters can’t do without football and the government does not want to pay for the costs of a single match. ‘An understandable solution’, is the conclusion of public order law expert Prof. J.G. Brouwer. ‘A match in Rotterdam with Ajax supporters there too would need an army of police and riot police. The costs simply cannot be justified.’
The problems surrounding the cup final seem to imply that the government has too few legal means to tackle hooliganism. The so-called ‘football act’ is currently being discussed in the Upper House of Parliament. However, the professor of General Law Studies does not expect it to be able to curb hooliganism. ‘They haven’t dared to introduce any radical changes to the law, as they did in England. There they have introduced ten principled changes to the law and the atmosphere around football matches has improved significantly. The crucial point is that English legislation dictates when the civil or criminal court must impose a stadium ban; if a judge does not, then he or she has to give good reasons for that decision.’
The suggested Dutch legislation provides two new opportunities for the mayor – a stadium ban and an obligation to report. However, clubs can already impose a sort of stadium ban on a supporter, so not much is going to change there. What is new is that the stadium ban will be able to be imposed more effectively. Supporters with a duty to report must report to police at the moment that their club is playing. Brouwer: ‘Mayors, however, are only responsible for public order in their own municipality. They can thus only impose a ban on a stadium in their own municipality. A mayor cannot issue a national ban, let alone an international stadium ban as an English judge can. I think that’s a missed chance.’
‘It may sound a bit reactionary’, according to Brouwer, ‘but tackling hooliganism head on actually works. In England hooliganism earns a stadium ban of up to ten years, here it's only one year. That’s not going to frighten off hooligans.’ The professor also knows that in England the definition of sanctionable behaviour is much wider. ‘Criminal acts committed 24 hours before and after a match are also regarded as football related. It even counts in England if you are known to the police outside a football stadium – the judge is obliged to examine at least ten years of someone’s past.’
Brouwer sees more chances for a creative solution for football violence in preventive incremental penalty payments. Brouwer: ‘The main ringleaders, i.e. those whom you almost know without a shadow of a doubt are going to use violence, could be sent a letter before a match with the warning: if you cause trouble, you’ll be fined five thousand euros per offence.’ According to the professor, the most effective method would be a general ban on visiting away matches. Brouwer: ‘If you then put a few huge television screens in the stadium of the away club, the supporters can still watch the match live together. You’d only need to charge a few euros admission to cover the costs of the screens.’
Jan Brouwer (Oosterbeek, 1951) is professor of General Law Studies at the Faculty of Law of the University of Groningen. His research concentrates in particular on public order issues. Brouwer is a member of the objection committees of the ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport (VWS), deputy judge at the court in Assen and Honorary French Consul in Groningen.
More information: Jan Brouwer
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