British police in Qatar to act as 'buffers'

British police in Qatar to act as ‘buffers’

Fans will only be able to consume alcohol in certain areas of the arena and in designated fan parks

British police officers deployed in Qatar for the World Cup will act as “cultural interpreters” between fans and local law enforcement, Chief Constable Mark Roberts has said.

Roberts, the national head of football policing, said British police are not there to tell fans how to behave.

“The focus is trying to prevent unfortunate misunderstandings where fans inadvertently cause offence,” he said.

The WC starts on November 20.

These “unfortunate misunderstandings” may be due to fans drinking alcohol, taking off their shirts, waving flags, congregating in large numbers and other stereotypes that come with football fan culture.

The British police delegation includes a team of 15 officers, who will act as a “buffer” between supporters and Qatari law enforcement.

“We are really keen that the British officers who go are a buffer and cultural interpreter so that we can have the first conversation with our fans before anyone else is brought in,” Roberts added.

“Their primary focus is to engage with the supporters and police forces just to say ‘look, we’re not saying you’re wrong, but it’s causing offense so you might want to moderate your behavior before someone else has to intervene’.”

Around 3,000 to 4,000 England fans are expected to travel to Qatar for the group stage, with numbers set to rise if Gareth Southgate’s side reach the knockout stage.

An estimated 2,000 to 3,000 Wales fans are also expected to fly out for the tournament, which finishes on December 18.

“We’re not there to tell people how to behave, we have no powers, we’re not there to enforce local laws,” Roberts said.

“What we’re there to do is have a conversation with supporters. We’re not going to lecture the fans about their behavior – the advice would be to be a good guest.

“Our officers are there and if we think there is any trouble we will try to intervene at a lower level and make sure everyone stays safe.

A “significant” number of British police officers will be on site, acting as spotters to gather information to feed back to Qatari commanders and acting as community officers to support fans.

Turkey will send more than 3,000 riot police to Qatar as part of the security operation for the tournament. It will also send 100 special operations police from Turkey to Qatar, along with 50 bomb specialists and 80 sniffer and riot dogs.

Last month, Pakistan’s government approved a draft agreement allowing the government to provide troops for security at the tournament. It did not say how many personnel would be sent, and neither country has said a final agreement has been reached.

“There may be perceptions from the Qatari police or the supporting Turkish police, or any of the other authorities, about what the supporters are doing,” Roberts added.

“Just because people are noisy, bouncing up and down and chanting in another language doesn’t mean they’re aggressive.”

Police statistics show there were three arrests among more than 5,000 England fans who traveled to Russia for the 2018 World Cup, 15 arrests four years earlier in Brazil where more than 9,000 fans traveled, and seven arrests of more than 14,000 fans in South Africa 2010.

Roberts said: “You can see from the statistics of previous World Cups, when people have to make an effort to get there, generally the fans will go, watch the games and enjoy them.”

Many fans “priced” the WC

The FIFA event will take place in a Muslim country in the Middle East for the first time, and the consumption of alcohol is forbidden in Islam.

Fans are coming only allowed to drink in the designated fan areas, one of which is a fan park that can hold up to 40,000 people and will show matches on big screens.

The other is a paid ticket event with DJs which may not attract fans in numbers as the cheapest tickets are said to start from £75.

Ashley Brown of the Football Supporters Association (FSA) said many fans have been “priced out” of the World Cup with concerns surrounding it as well lack of accommodation available to supporters.

“There’s a combination of reasons why people are discouraged,” Brown said.

“For a lot of people, Qatar doesn’t sound like an exciting place to go, it’s not a typical holiday destination, lack of alcohol availability, cost to get there, cost once you’re there, that’s put a lot of people off.”

The World Cup is expected to attract more than a million visitors, but in March Qatar had only 30,000 hotel rooms, 80% of which had already been booked by Fifa for football teams, officials and sponsors.

Organizers are offering shared rooms in empty apartments, villas, fan villages and traditional tents in the desert with two cruise ships being converted into floating hotels that will be moored in Doha’s port.

Some fans even choose to fly in from neighboring Emirates Dubai.

Another point of contention for traveling fans has been the fact that homosexuality is illegal in Qatar and many gay fans have chosen to boycott the tournament.

“It’s very sad,” Brown said. “Three Lions Pride representing that community as traveling England fans – I don’t think any will come.

“They don’t feel safe, they don’t feel comfortable and they don’t feel reassured and it’s incredibly disappointing that Fifa can stage a tournament in a country that doesn’t welcome these people.”

Fans have also been encouraged by the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Alicia Kearns, to leave their personal phones at home and instead bring burner phones to Qatar. This comes amid fears that apps you have to download in Qatar are being used to hack into people’s phones.

“We heard the same thing for Russia and I’m not aware of any problems that have been had in Russia,” Brown said.

“I’ve been to Qatar twice, I’ve used my own phone, I’ve had no problems.”

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