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Published: September 21, 2009

David Freear, Operations Director of Pilgrims Group recently produced an article for FC Business Magazine as part of a two part feature on security risks and responsibilities in the world of football.

You can read this article below.

Introduction

Sports teams fired upon in Pakistan. Premiership players burgled. Leading strikers in car crashes. Big name players arrested. These are all real and current threats to the football business, whether it be risk of injury to players or damage to a brand.

Security within venues tends to be strong, with professional organisations tasked with securing the players and the buildings. But when teams and staff leave the ground, what protocols are in place to protect them?

Clubs have a duty of care to their staff and teams. Are the procedures your club has in place enough? When was the last time those procedures were checked or assessed via a real time evaluation or table top exercise?

The recent attack on cricket teams in Lahore shook the sporting world; if it can happen in cricket, it can happen in football. From a security and safety perspective things are changing rapidly and it can be difficult keeping up with current trends or issues. The impact of terrorist actions is becoming much wider felt particularly within the emerging markets that clubs are expanding into. The criminal element is becoming much bolder in their approach and methods of execution. Furthermore, insurers as a result and the current economic climate are placing more exclusions on policies.

As well as physical protection, a club’s brand needs to be protected as much as a players’. Lucrative relationships with sponsors should also be protected. By addressing this issue and putting simple protocols in place, football clubs, managers, agents, marketing teams and players themselves can take action to minimise damage, costs, court cases and the reoccurrence of nightmare headlines.

Players don't always know what they are looking for in regards to security and can have an outdated way of looking after their assets. It may be common practice for players to get mates to help them out with close protection, security, driving; but these people, while trusted friends, are unlikely to have the experience to know what to do when things hit the fan, and more importantly, aren’t trained in how to avoid incidents happening in the first place.

One option is to bring in professional personnel to take over these roles. However that may not always prove to be practical, or you may want to work with people you know and trust. Rather than change this, why not simply get your own people trained to deal with situations? They can share in the experience gained by professionals from working within hostile environments and with high profile individuals who are on today’s front lines. This can prove a very cost effective solution.

Clubs can take action and be proactive in protecting their players and their brand. By bringing in experts to provide simple training to players, their staff, and even their families, they can be shown not only how to get away from trouble with minimum drama, but how to avoid it in the first place.

Risk Assessment experts Pilgrims Group have highlighted some simple and effective actions that can be taken to protect players, their families, staff and clubs, when home, on the move, socialising and abroad…

Driving

If you’re driving a prestige car your profile is immediately higher - increasing the risk of people waiting to assault you as you stop at traffic lights, car jack you, or knock on your doorstep and demand your keys. You may be being followed by the media and want to get away. Someone may want their two minutes of fame in the tabloids by seizing an opportunistic moment while one of your star players gets in his car. You cannot always prevent the extra attention, but you can take measures on how you deal with it.

There are two main areas to consider when trying to reduce risks – improve your actual driving skills and improve your awareness and risk assessment skills. Taking a standard advanced driving course will teach you how to drive better and will also cover points with regard to your awareness. The key can be recognising the issues that are not so obvious and how to avoid them. If you do find yourself in a situation, what can you realistically do to get out of it - safely? It’s about being prepared, learning how to do J turns and U turns is one aspect but there are other skills that can be learnt such as defensive driving techniques that can be just as effective and much more subtle.

At home

Technological, procedural and physical security should form a fully integrated system. Unfortunately time and time again we see two or three different security systems being bolted together which gives rise to its own issues and ultimately its effectiveness. Technical solutions can range from a simple door entry system and panic alarms through to safe rooms within the house and round the clock monitored camera systems. Steel doors, vehicle barriers and numerous other technical gadgets can be added. Onsite manned guarding personnel can also be considered for a physical security presence.

Get a professional company to provide a full risk assessment – regularly. Don’t just consider technical companies for this aspect, the most beneficial assessment can be done by those that regularly practice defeating the system which highlights the key areas to improve. Assess the effectiveness of IT and communications systems and consider penetration tests (physical and electronic, including sweeps).

There can be a misconception that overt systems with lots of cameras is best, but covert systems are much harder to detect by intruders and can give you the upper hand by keeping you one step ahead.

Socialising

When in the public eye away from the club’s support structure players and executives can be at their most risk for a number of reasons. In order to reduce not just safety and security risks but also to protect risks to reputation, image and brand – preparation is key.

Whether on their own or with trusted friends, high profile individuals will not know what’s around the corner, nor may they have the luxury of their own Special Forces team to look after them. A drunken confrontation, aggressive media intrusion, knife attack, even being seen with a person or merchandise that could simply affect their brand; the answer is to prepare them, their family and those people close to them. Small things like clocking the locations of emergency exits when you enter a venue can assist when incidents develop. Give them situational and risk awareness training, give them the skills and knowledge required and give them the ability to practically use this information in real time so they can avoid situations well before they develop, and will know what to do if incidents escalate. This type of training can be specialist, but can be taught easily and cost effectively.

Travelling

The attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore earlier this year exposed the vulnerability of all sporting events to terrorist strikes. It has raised fears that international sportsman may become a new target of choice for certain extremists.

There are numerous things players and senior executives can do to mitigate the risks they may encounter. Whether travelling as part of a group or on your own – you may find yourself separated from the support structure you were depending on. Therefore it is essential that you know what actions to take to keep safe and stay out of trouble.

Pre-travel procedures, due diligence checks, risk and information reports are all crucial. So are crisis management and recovery plans. When were these last reviewed or actually assessed via a table top exercise within your organisation? This is the only way you will know for sure it will work before it happens for real. Do your players know the downtown areas that may be best avoided? Do you have fully screened drivers in place? Is it a risk you want or need to take?

Companies such as Pilgrims offer senior executive and high net worth travellers courses, providing guidance and practical tips on how to ensure safety and security remain a priority at home, at work and abroad. The essence of the training is to ensure that staff and players will have to hand the principles to enable them to prepare, evaluate, act and re-evaluate any given situation, thus mitigating the risk to both the individuals and the business – no matter where they are.

Staff

What procedures do you have in place to ensure you know who you have working for you? Screening of staff is an extremely important function. Information leaks can compromise deals or be embarrassing for both the club and individual involved. More importantly information getting into the wrong hands can affect the security and safety of your players or staff. Criminals now target high profile individuals via indirect means, personal staff, lower level employees or even suppliers.

It is therefore imperative you thoroughly complete all checks and don’t cut corners. As well as your employees, ensure you know what staff your suppliers are bringing into your organisation. Even Buckingham Palace has fallen foul of exactly that, with the wrong kind of headlines pasted across the daily papers.

All organisations should have clearly defined procedures together with timelines for completion. Regular management checks are a must, and the process must maintain its independence to ensure no part of it can be compromised. There are British Standards that reputable organisations work to which ensures individuals are diligently checked.

Personal staff working in homes such as nannies, cleaners or even PA’s, have probably never had any training on how to deal with potential safety or security issues, yet they may be looking after family members or may provide an avenue into your home that could be exploited. Bottom line is to ensure they are prepared in the same way as your family - through basic training and awareness.

Family

Here we include the inner circle, friends, relatives and those that are close to these groups. Educate, train and involve them, as this will ultimately protect them – and you. For instance, would your children consider the impact or possible ramifications of letting someone they know via an internet social networking site that they were going away and where to? Would you and your family know how to deal with a kidnap situation or what to do if caught up in a disaster? Due to the very personal and individual nature of this subject only a few specialist organisations provide training. For us it’s about keeping things simple - but following certain principles can keep you safe and alive. Courses can be structured around bespoke elements directly relevant to you and your family and can be a very effective way of achieving peace of mind.

Simple Training to Ensure Premiership Quality Protection

There are courses out there covering situation awareness, security planning at home and at work, confrontation management, defensive driving techniques, how to extract yourself from a situation, through to self defence. The hardest decision can be which one to take – as you may be too busy to do more than one. Use a company that has a wealth of experience and are used to protecting both high profile and high net worth individuals from prospective risks and threats. These companies can design bespoke training according to your needs, from team training sessions to individual security assessments. A well developed course is not only extremely engaging and a good method of team bonding. A one day course could save injuries, money and reputations.

Conclusion

Action can be taken to protect the physical safety, image and brand of your own club and players once they leave the ground.

Within the UK there are constantly individuals and companies who are under attack from extremist groups and individuals. There are around 400 organised crime bosses in the UK with an amassed criminal wealth of approximately £440 million. Someone is mugged at knifepoint every 30 minutes and a house broken into every two minutes as the recession crime wave deepens.

There is a synergy to these threats, and clubs can draw on the experience gained and lessons learned and apply this to securing their environment and their players.

By arranging bespoke training for your teams you are taking action to protect your assets. Train your staff to be able to identify, avoid, and if necessary handle situations appropriately and with minimum risk. From knowing how to drive defensively to escape the media and what to do if a stranger knocks on your door, to your closest friend being able to use minimum force to stop a fight or stop you from picking up that drinks can that is your sponsors rival at a media event, it can, and will, make a difference.

Experienced companies can provide clubs and players with bespoke Personal Security Plans. They can also give their families and staff the ability to protect themselves, identify risks and avoid incidents.

Training provides practical skills that will never be forgotten and can be implemented on a daily basis. It is likely to save clubs and players not only financial costs, but the risk of physical losses. What price the safety of your team and the reputation of your club?

David Freear is Director of Operations for Pilgrims Group Ltd. Pilgrims provides global risk assessment, security services and training for high risk sectors, from high net worth individuals to training the world’s media in how to operate in hostile environments including Iraq and Nigeria. Pilgrims’ specialist teams provide security risks consultations, workshops, tips and advice, and bespoke training for high profile executives, players, their staff and families.