As the 2018 FIFA world cup takes place in Russia, I find myself reflecting on an article I wrote just over two years ago ahead of the European Championships in France.  Since I wrote that article on the 26th May 2016, France has undergone a few of its own security-related incidents, some of which changed many lives forever.

Whilst the actual event of Euro 2016 remained unscathed along with all concerned, leaving everyone connected to the origination of the tournament breathing a sigh of relief after the final whistle on the 10th July, it was still only 4 days later that France suffered once again at the hands of terrorism.

You will likely recall that a large truck was deliberately driven into crowds celebrating Bastille Day on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice. The driver was a Tunisian resident of France. The attack ended following an exchange of gunfire, during which the perpetrator was shot and killed by police, but not before he had killed 86 people and injured a further 434 with his commandeered vehicle.  When events that may attract terrorists come to an end, there is a risk that the usual reduction in security that follows can bring about opportunistic attention from said terrorist groups.

The Russian security services will be all too aware of this and both they and the governing bodies of football have emphasised how secure they intend this FIFA 2018 World Cup to be.  It was only natural therefore, that when a taxi driver suddenly rammed into pedestrians near Red Square, despite intense security measures around Russian cities for the World Cup, fans and other visitors questioned the level of security and their own safety.  No lives were lost and, as it turned out, the incident was caused by no more than a taxi driver apparently falling asleep at the wheel.  Given how many vehicles have been used as weapons in recent years, there was understandable initial concern as to what sort of incident this was.

In fact, the security measure employed at this world cup are probably as stringent as we’ve ever seen for such an event.  It appears that the authorities are taking no chances, and rightly so.  There is a ‘ring of steel’ around each venue, forcing fans to walk the best part of 500 metres to enter a stadium.  Police, Cossacks on horseback and anti-riot squads are in abundance.  It may appear to be a heavy-handed approach, but the organisers just want fans to have a good and a safe time and for the event to pass off without incident.

In what could be considered to be extreme security measures, Russia has stationed some of its significant naval and army forces in the ports and vicinities of the games, it has closed ports to heavy ‘dangerous’ cargo, stopped all factory production where there are hazardous materials being used and deployed fighter jets to respond at a moments notice.  It’s probable that the majority of fans are unaware of the scale of the security being deployed, but Russia is determined that it doesn’t happen on their doorstep and in their tournament.

We are a far cry from the 20th century where hosting a football tournament and attending as a fan required only some minor lip-service to security and all that goes with it.  Travel has changed massively in a relatively short period of time, driven by some terrible events of the recent past, and incidents that have led us to a requirement to feel safer than we’ve needed to before.  And there’s no going back now.  Once the horse has bolted and the bad stuff has occurred, on an all-too regular basis, the present and the future consists of security requirements that are here to stay.  As terrorist groups and individuals work to thwart those measures, new features have to be brought online to retain confidence and to ensure the safety of the innocent patrons.  Vehicle ramming attacks are a relatively new thing and they get around the issues of transporting weapons, explosive and chemicals, because they can be just as effective and very difficult to intercept.  The fact that anyone of a certain age can obtain and drive a vehicle requires the need for such defensive measures to be placed around crowded places and other soft ‘targets’.

Such is the level of confidence associated with the security in the World Cup of 2018, the greatest risk to spoiling things is likely to be elements of football ‘hooligans’ who are perhaps intending to be opportunistic if and when certain teams face off against each other.  Opposing rival fans sharing the same space prior to kick-off creates its own problems.  We can only hope that is the most we should be concerned with this summer.

Written by Mark Corder, Security Consultant, Cognitious Ltd (June 2018)