UK police initially suggested deploying SEOs, and Qatari officials approved of the idea, according to Roberts. He claimed, however, that there was still some ambiguity over the operation’s course of action and how it will unfold.
UK officials have sent more policemen to Qatar to “deconflict” situations out of concern that England fans would unintentionally provoke police during the World Cup, reported The Guardian.
For the first time at an international competition, British police will send “supporter engagement officers” (SEOs) to warn fans regarding their behaviour even if they are not breaking any laws.
This is due to concerns over cultural differences and preconceived notions regarding the behaviour of English fans coming to Qatar for the World Cup later this month.
“It’s a World Cup in a very different part of the world with a very different culture,” chief constable Mark Roberts, England’s national lead for football policing stated, according to The Guardian.
“One of my fears is that supporters not wishing to cause problems may act in a way that inadvertently causes offence or draws attention. Equally there may be perceptions on the part of either Qatari police or the supporting Turkish police where there’s this misapprehension of what supporters are doing.”
In addition to police officers from Pakistan to provide security and safeguarding inside venues, organisers in Qatar have recruited thousands of policemen from the Turkish national police to manage events outside World Cup stadiums.
“We’re all there as guests of the Qataris so it’s their operation,” he said. “It’s all very encouraging, but I’ve not got the benefit of English domestic teams playing Champions League games in Qatar for the last 20 years. So while I can say with confidence I know how the Germans do it I can’t say that [in Qatar], because we’ve not had the wealth of experience.”
Tony Conniford, the head of security for the English Football Association, predicted that at least 3,000 English supporters will be present for the group games, beginning on November 21 against Iran. When evaluating England supporters’ actions, he urged police not to base their decisions on their reputation.
“I feel like communication is the key to success of this tournament,” said Conniford, according to the The Guardian. “If fans are well-informed before they travel then I think they will respect and adhere to the culture we are going into. In every country I’ve been into in recent years I’ve asked that England fans are policed on the behaviour that’s in front of them and not the reputation that precedes them. I sincerely hope that this will be the case on this occasion.”
According to Roberts, SEOs will function as a “buffer” between supporters and law enforcement, and they will interact with supporters if they appear to be stepping outside of the lines as viewed by the locals.
“Our first port of call will be for our officers to go over to them try to explain and try to deconflict. Equally if we think there’s going to be an intervention by law enforcement, [SEOs] will be seeking to engage with that law enforcement, just calm it down and move people on, try to inject a sense of balance.”
“It is a completely new environment for us to travel to, one that has not staged a major football tournament before, and I think it will make for an exciting supporter experience. I’d like to think that the [Qatari authorities] are ready, but I think we’ll only find out once we get there,” added Conniford.