How safe are our sports venues?

The recent bomb attacks in Brussels have had a rippling effect on entire Europe, and thefocus is now on France, which will host the 2016 European football Championship from June 10-July 10, 2016. The UEFA, however, has said that EURO 2016 would go on as scheduled. The governing body of European football also reaffirmed its commitment to security ahead of the tournament. This, in a way, indicates that even sports venues are not free of such threats. How does the security network handle such threats in India?

Security personnel keep vigil at the Feroze Shah Kotla ground in New Delhi ahead of an ODI match between India and Pakistan.   -  Anu Pushkarna

Policemen stand guard outside the Eden Gardens a day before the India-Pakistan match of the 2016 ICC World T20. The emphasis of security here is on three key aspects: sterilisation of the stadium and surrounding areas, proper frisking of every person entering and approaching the stadium and intelligence inputs.   -  AP

Security personnel inspect the spot where a bomb exploded outside the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru on April 17, 2010.   -  PTI

NEW DELHI

Security arrangements for any sporting event in the national capital are entirely the responsibility of the Delhi Police. Any paramilitary forces roped in for security work are as per the instructions of the Delhi Police.

A senior police officer in the security unit says the job primarily involves providing security for four components: the players, the place of event, the public attending the event and the VVIP guests.

Police ensure security for players from the time they land in the city to when they fly out. “Whether the players are out for a drink or are visiting a friend anywhere in NCR, we follow them,” says the officer.

Since sporting events draw large crowds, there are multiple entry points at the sporting venues. This increases the chances of objectionable items being smuggled in. To counter that, there are multiple levels of checking and frisking before visitors actually take their seats.

The cars are parked at a safe distance from the sporting venues so that the possibility of damage and panic because of car bombs is greatly reduced. On an average, for a sporting event with 25,000 visitors, the police are prepared for parking and checking of least 8,000 vehicles.

Special traffic advisories are issued and motorists are advised to keep away from routes near the sporting venues so that there is not only less traffic congestion, but victims can be quickly rushed to hospital in an emergency.

“Much before the sporting event, we identify nearby hospitals, separately for players and VIPs and the public,” says the officer.

Sporting events of a larger scale, such as a World Cup cricket match, call for cancellation of leaves of most policemen. “It is not only the sporting venue that has to be secured, but the entire city. Any scary incident anywhere in the city has the potential to create panic and a possible stampede inside a stadium. The city is put on a high alert on such occasions,” the officer explains.

KOLKATA

When it comes to security arrangement for mega sporting events in Kolkata, former Police Commissioner Gautam M. Chakraborty emphasises three key aspects: sterilisation of the stadium and surrounding areas, proper frisking of every person entering and approaching the stadium and intelligence inputs.

“It is always a big challenge to organise any major sporting events where there is a gathering of a large number of people in one place. It is even more important in a place like the Eden Gardens, where people enter the stadium from multiple points,” says Chakraborty.

“The process of providing security starts from nearly a kilometre outside the stadium and the vehicles approaching the stadium are searched,” he says.

Vehicles without the approved security stickers are not allowed to go close to the stadium.

“At the ground we insisted on a three-tier security. Every person entering the stadium has to be searched thrice,” says Chakraborty.

Every spectator is made to go through metal detectors; bags, eatables, or even water from outside, are not allowed inside the stadium.

No one can carry bottles, even plastic ones, inside the stadium. They have to buy plastic pouches inside the stadium. Even the ticket holders of the Club House, which is attached to the pavilion, are not allowed to carry plastic bottles or consumables from outside the stadium.

As for the key intelligence inputs, Chakravarty says, apart from specialised agencies the information from the police’s “own network among criminals” plays a key role in tracking suspicious individuals.

MUMBAI

The Wankhede Stadium, the venue of the second semi-final of the World T20, will also host several matches of the coming Indian Premier League. According to Police sources, the recent terror attack in Brussels has been taken into account, and along with security at the venue, general anti-terror measures have also been stepped up.

“Every international cricket match is always regarded as a priority in terms of security, and all possible measures are taken to ensure maximum security for these events. Apart from laying a thick cordon around the stadium, other measures like increased patrolling around it, as well as random checks and nakabandis (a system of patrolling streets using checkpoints) all over the city are already underway,” says the Deputy Commissioner of Police, Zone I, Manoj Kumar Sharma.

The IPL security model, as it is unofficially known among the rank and file of the Mumbai Police, is regarded to be one of the heaviest security measures enforced in the city, and the same model was followed for the swearing in ceremony of the Maharashtra Chief Minister, Devendra Fadnavis, in 2014.

The model comprises a three-tier security around the stadium for strict access control, mandatory checking of every person entering the stadium, patrolling the stadium’s perimeter by police personnel in armoured vehicles and static surveillance teams inside it. After every match, police personnel are required to undergo a lengthy debriefing sessions so that any lapses, including potential ones, can be pinpointed and ironed out.

BENGALURU

For the police, the year 2010 was a steep learning curve. They had to secure the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium in the heart of the city. A long queue gathered in front of the few open gates of the stadium on April 17 to watch the home team, Royal Challengers Bangalore, take on Mumbai Indians. In anticipation of the game, and the handling of the crowds, packets strewn alongside the compound walls went unnoticed. Two low-intensity blasts injured 15, and a third bomb was defused there. According to the Bengaluru Police Commissioner, N. S. Megharikh, there was no looking back for the police after that.

“Today, high-profile games see anti-sabotage teams conducting a thorough check of the stadium two days prior to the start of the match. Entry and exit is strictly controlled during this period,” he says.

To counter terrorism, a network of 125 CCTV cameras help the men in khaki keep a vigil, while two platoons of reserve police as well as the elite Garuda Force commandos are put on a high alert for all contingencies.

“During the game, there are multiple levels of security and extensive security around the stadium,” says Megharikh.

While the specifics are kept under wraps, it is believed that 600 policemen are posted at the stadium during a game that is a sell-out while a further 80 to 100 men in muftis blend into the crowd to gauge the situation.

CHENNAI

A senior police officer from Chennai said that the security arrangements at the stadium depend on the teams playing the match. For a normal match the security arrangements are simple. For high profile teams the security is stricter.

“The security checks begin days before the match. The ground is checked and the audience area too is thoroughly scanned for explosives. On the scheduled date, metal detectors are put in place and manual frisking is also done. Plainclothes policemen are also deployed to keep track of miscreants. Traffic diversion is also enforced around the stadium,” he says.

Inputs from Shiv Sunny (New Delhi), Soumya Das (Kolkata), Gautam S. Mengle (Mumbai), Anjali Thomas (Bengaluru) & Vivek Narayanan (Chennai)