More than 1,800 stadium bans were imposed in Belgium during the 2021-22 football season along with larger fines as authorities tried to crack down on fan violence.
The sanctions “are a clear signal that bad behaviour has no place in our football stadiums,” Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden said Tuesday.
The sanctions were imposed by a specialized cell at the interior ministry and form part of a clampdown following repeated incidents.
According to the ministry’s figures, the number of citations submitted by police during the 2021-22 season was not significantly higher than in 2018-2019 prior to the coronavirus outbreak, but the penalties were tougher.
During the 2021-22 season, stadium bans for individual fans added up to a total of 22,037 months, almost double the 2018-2019 total of 11,229 months, the ministry said.
The total amount of fines also increased significantly, from 540,525 euros ($585,000) to 910,250 euros ($985,000).
Fan violence in Belgian stadiums has continued in recent months. In November, Verlinden met with league and club officials to present them with details of a draft law aimed at reducing incidents.
The meeting took place shortly after a top-tier league game between Charleroi and Mechelen in November was abandoned after Charleroi fans threw flares onto the field. In October, the “Classico” match between Standard Liege and Anderlecht was also marred by fan disorder and had to be abandoned after 63 minutes.
The Belgian government wants to tighten access to stadiums to keep violent individuals away. In addition, under a new law which needs to be approved by the federal parliament, clubs will be punished more severely if, for instance, they don’t comply with regulations on ticket sales or if they fail to take sufficient precautions to ban the use of flares.
Offenses such as physical violence, racism or the use of fireworks would be punishable by stadium bans of up to 10 years, instead of the current five.
And to make sure individuals subject to bans are not allowed at venues, stewards and agents working for private security companies will be able to check that a fan’s identity matches the name on the ticket.
The interior ministry said it started this season an inspection of stadiums to check the efficiency of video surveillance systems installed by professional football clubs.
“All 30 professional clubs were audited within three months,” the ministry said. “Deficiencies were found at eight clubs.”