Fingers point in every direction but still no action
Zero acceptance of responsibility or tangible moves made by PSL or police over violent pitch invasions
Premier Soccer League (PSL) chairperson Irvin Khoza’s attempt to deflect responsibility for Saturday night’s ugly scenes at Moses Mabhida Stadium onto the police leaves very little hope of the situation improving.
In what seemed an inadequate response in the wake of such devastating scenes as the violent pitch invasion that followed Kaizer Chiefs’ 2-0 Nedbank Cup semifinal defeat against Free State Stars, Khoza actively avoided accepting the league had responsibility.
Once again he failed to commit to any large-scale, concrete, expensive action to resolve what, on the evidence of a second violent pitch invasion in 15 months, and other events that lead to injuries and deaths, is becoming an epidemic stadium security problem for the PSL.Khoza said among action the league had already begun taking on the issue before Saturday had been a meeting with a government minister. The purpose was to raise observations of a dereliction in aspects of implementation of the Sasrea Act (Safety at Sports and Recreational Events Act) by the South African Police Services (SAPS) at PSL matches.
Among these, Khoza said, were:
“A failure by the authorised member or VOC (venue operation centre) commander of SAPS to deploy adequate policing, deployment of state security service officials, commensurate with the match risk faced. Lack of budget resources and payments of overtime are often given as reasons.”
“An insufficient number of strategic deployments and positioning of experienced SAPS public order unit members at matches where a known escalation of a security risk has occurred in the lead-up to a match, such as the match on Saturday night.”
That “[pre-match] event and safety and security planning committees are often left hanging until the last moment as far as confirmation … regarding the number of officials that will be deployed to provide adequate policing”.
“An increasing and incorrect expectation by SAPS … that the private security and safety stewards … carry out the Sasrea responsibilities of the SAPS. It must be remembered that private security officers … do not have the power to arrest.”Khoza later gave one concrete example of one such an oversight in the SAPS’s handling of the game at Moses Mabhida.
“In this instance the [SAPS] authorised member … did not come to the first meeting on April 17, where the planning had to take place,” Khoza said.
“He only came at the implementation day on the 21st. There’s a problem with that. You can’t implement what you did not plan for.”
These are serious allegations. If these deficiencies in the SAPS’s execution of their duties at football matches are correct, it is a major problem that needs addressing by Police Minister Bheki Cele.
But such issues, if they do exist, can only provide an aspect the source of a growing problem in PSL stadium security.The 2015 shooting of a fan in a pitch invasion, death of two fans at the 2017 Carling Black Label Cup, violent Orlando Pirates and Mamelodi Sundowns pitch invasion in 2017, Moses Mabhida, and many other less-covered incidents in-between, indicate that the security issue has been getting out of hand.
The PSL’s lack of provision of enough numbers of their own employed private security, and adequate training for them in being able to snuff out events before they are out of control, is very clearly a major part of the problem.
Yet, asked directly whether the PSL’s private security policies need review or improvement, Khoza never saw fit even to produce a Lionel Messi sidestep.
“The most important thing in all the matches of medium and high risk is the VOC commander, who is the one who gives directives on what must happen,” he said.
“The issue is not an issue of the security; it’s an issue of public order policing.”
Such a statement places the security issue at stadiums squarely on the shoulders of the SAPS.But in the case of pitch invasions, and other events of unruliness, while the VOC and SAPS might be in charge, stopping them is a joint undertaking. Usually PSL security, who are greater in number, are the first at a scene.
Unless a government-approved decision is made to employ thousands of riot police in high-risk matches, the SAPS are there to work hand in hand with PSL security. The SAPS are also there to make arrests where there is criminal activity.
There are clearly issues with the numbers of PSL security, and their level in training. And there has been no evidence of a noticeable bolstering of numbers, especially for big, potentially volatile matches, despite the evidence being there that it was needed.The PSL has not made any announcement about plans to improve training. And Khoza’s response on the matter appears to explain why – he does not see the need. Perhaps, though, the added cost is the real issue.
Very few major crackdowns have come on offending clubs, so few hard-hitting messages have been sent out by the PSL.
Pirates, after 15 months’ deliberation, were sentenced to two matches behind closed doors, with one suspended for the February 2017 pitch invasion at Loftus Versfeld instigated by their supporters.
So if the league takes its “general and legislative activities” regarding the safety of its valued ticket-paying public “very seriously”, as Khoza said, then why has none of this been done to address a growing problem that can cost lives?
Mostly press conferences have been forthcoming to express shock, apologise to the sponsors, condemn the violence and make promises of thorough investigations, which have not so far resulted in any tangible action. If it had, surely it would have been loudly announced.
And now also the pointing of fingers.
So when will an improvement ever come?