UK police to be on hand at Qatar World Cup to calm any tension

Team of 15 engagement officers plan to act as a 'buffer' between fans and local law enforcement

The Khalifa International Stadium in Doha. AFP
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British police officers will be on hand at the World Cup to prevent problems for England and Wales fans in Qatar, and will not act as “morality police”, Chf Const Mark Roberts said.

The UK delegation will include a team of 15 "supporter engagement" officers who will act as a buffer between supporters from the two nations and Qatari police.

The experienced officers will be on hand to talk with fans and de-escalate situations if they believe “there’s a risk they may be overstepping the mark”.

They will also speak with security at the grounds to calm any tension.

But Mr Roberts said they would only be focusing on fans who are “starting to draw a bit of attention” and could cause offence with their behaviour without realising.

He said they would not tell people whether or not they have had too much to drink.

Up to 4,000 England fans are expected to travel to Qatar for the group stages, with numbers set to increase if the Three Lions reach the knockout stages.

Between 2,000 and 3,000 Wales fans are also expected to fly out, while both sides could see their numbers in the stands increased by expatriates in the region.

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Police statistics showed there were three arrests among more than 5,000 England fans who travelled to Russia for the 2018 World Cup, 15 arrests four years earlier in Brazil where more than 9,000 fans travelled, and seven arrests among the more than 14,000 fans at South Africa in 2010.

Mr Roberts said it was hoped that, similar to those tournaments, trouble is kept to a minimum.

“It’s a World Cup in a different part of the world with a very different culture,, and I think one of my fears is that supporters, not wishing to cause offence or cause problems, may act in a way that inadvertently causes offence or draws attention," he said.

“Equally, there may be perceptions on the part of the Qatari police or the supporting Turkish police, or any of the other agencies, about what supporters are doing.

“Just because people are noisy, bouncing up and down and chanting in a different language does not mean they’re being aggressive.”

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Public order officers are to be brought in from other countries to support the Qatari police operation, with a “large contingent” from Turkish forces and some of the private security being provided by Pakistani police.

UK officials described Qatar’s preparations as “impressive” but said it was still unknown how well the different police forces would interact with each other, and with fans.

A “significant” number of UK police officers will be at the grounds as spotters to gather information for the Qatari commanders, and act as community officers to support fans.

Mr Roberts said they included a mix of English and Welsh officers, some of whom will be Welsh speakers.

“Their whole purpose is to be that buffer between our supporters and the local law enforcement,” he said.

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Asked if the officers could be perceived as a “morality police”, Mr Roberts replied: “No is the simple answer.”

“It’s not for us to judge whether what they are doing is right, wrong or indifferent, we just want to look after the supporters," he said.

"And the last thing we want to do is for someone who doesn’t realise they’re causing offence to find themselves in a situation where they’re then engaging with one of the foreign police forces.

“So we’re not there to be morality police, we’re there to say to people, 'Look, you’re starting to draw a bit of attention, calm it down, we don’t want you to come into contact with any other policing styles'.”

Chf Supt Steve Graham, head of the English police delegation, encouraged England fans to “live up to your actual behaviours” rather than seeking to “live down” to their perceived reputation.

Supt Stephen Rees, leading the Welsh police in Qatar, said the Red Wall should live up to the “positive reputation” they had built up around the world.

“You can see from the stats of previous World Cups, when people have to go to that effort and expense to get there, generally fans are going to go, watch the games and enjoy them,” Mr Roberts said.

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He said the option for fans to buy beer and spend the day in a public square will not be possible in Qatar, and that those drinking will be in “relatively controlled” environments in either a hotel bar or a fan zone.

Fans will not be allowed to remove their tops in celebration, Mr Roberts said, and police will need to be “flexible” with fans wishing to display national flags in public.

Tony Conniford, head of security at the Football Association, was asked about the readiness of Qatar to deal with the influx of fans.

“I’d like to think that they are ready, but I think you will only find out once we get there,” Mr Conniford said.

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Updated: November 01, 2022, 10:53 PM