Government to get tough on climate protesters after summer of sports disruption

Latest spark is Wimbledon, where there were delays due to enhanced security to avoid scenes seen at last week's cricket

Spectators queue in Wimbledon Park ahead of day one of the tournament. Getty Images
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British Home Secretary Suella Braverman will hold talks with senior sporting figures and police chiefs after a spate of disruptions to summer tournaments, including Wimbledon and the second Ashes test, it was announced on Tuesday.

Increased security checks aimed at rooting out climate protesters have slowed entry to the tennis tournament, disappointing fans, with some saying the queue was the "worst" they had seen.

The move was aimed at preventing a repeat of scenes at Lord's last week, when two people got onto the pitch and spread orange powder in protest before being stopped by players and security.

Rugby and snooker are among other sports which have been affected in recent weeks.

Ms Braverman's meeting on Wednesday will address how to protect Wimbledon and other events this summer from further “guerrilla protests”.

Together with Sports Secretary Lucy Frazer, Ms Braverman will meet event organisers and national sporting bodies to discuss, in particular, theJust Stop Oil and Animal Rising groups.

Wimbledon's enhanced security measures this year include a "100 per cent bag search" and "selective body search" at all gates – the latter of which will be conducted "on the basis of intelligence" – to root out protesters.

A spokesperson for the All England Lawn Tennis Club acknowledged the disruption and thanked fans for their "patience and understanding".

They added: "Understandably, our security team on the gates are conducting an enhanced bag check operation.

"While there has been a steady stream of guests entering the grounds since gates opened at 10am, entry via the queue has been at a slower rate than in previous years as a result of these checks."

Chalk dust and powder substances have been banned at Wimbledon this year. They were not listed as prohibited items in 2022.

The club's chief executive, Sally Bolton, earlier told reporters that security arrangements had been boosted after climate change group Just Stop Oil disrupted the second Ashes Test, the Gallagher Premiership rugby final at Twickenham and the World Snooker Championship.

Ms Bolton said Wimbledon is working with behavioural detection officers from the Metropolitan Police to help identify protesters who may disrupt play.

Speaking of the security measures, Ms Bolton said: "They're not a new thing this year. We have them every year. So again they're part of our operation this year and in a slightly enhanced way and maybe looking for slightly different things than they would in any other year."

She added: "As we've seen at other sporting events, we can't guarantee anything, but we're extremely confident that the measures we've got in place are the right measures and we are ready to deal with something if it happens."

It comes as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak pledged to work with the police and sporting authorities to ensure disruptive protests are stopped.

Writing in The Sun, Mr Sunak praised England cricketer Jonny Bairstow for having “coolly carried away” a Just Stop Oil protester who had disrupted the match.

“As Bairstow showed at Lord’s, people want an end to this disruption,” the Prime Minister said.

“And I will work with the police and sporting authorities to ensure we do stop it.”

Just Stop Oil protest disrupts Ashes - in pictures

He said if protesters got their way “life would be truly miserable”.

“Extinction Rebellion, for instance, demands we achieve net zero by 2025. That would destroy entire industries, cripple the NHS, throw millions out of work and paralyse the electricity system," he wrote.

“We will achieve a net zero economy — but not in a way that kills jobs, and over a period of time, not overnight.”

He said Britain is not a “place of extremes” and people “just want to get on with their lives”.

Veterans Minister Johnny Mercer said everyone recognises the challenge on the environment and “wants to do better on it”.

Speaking on Sky News on Tuesday, Mr Mercer said the climate change protestors are “kind of shooting themselves in the foot, because everyone wants to do better on the environment”.

“It’s having a massive impact on people’s lives. I think it’s completely disproportionate. And the big problem is it’s actually turning people against what is a really important cause.

“We need to make sure always we protect the right to protest, absolutely.

"But the disproportionate nature of some of these things is clearly unacceptable.”

Entrepreneur Trevor Neilson, who set up a group that funded Extinction Rebellion and Just Stop Oil, said the disruptive approach is "not helping".

Speaking to The Times, he said their actions are "just performative".

"It’s not accomplishing anything. I absolutely believe that it has now become counterproductive.”

The government recently brought in new measures to crack down on environmental activists, including an expansion of police powers and the introduction of a new criminal offence, "tunnelling", which involves the construction of underground tunnels and is often employed in protests against road and transport infrastructure projects.

The British Transport Police and the Ministry of Defence Police have powers to move static protests, a common tactic of campaigners.

Updated: July 04, 2023, 1:42 PM