The role of a security officer - be it at a FIFA tournament or at a FIFA World Cup qualifying game - is an intricate one that demands a specialist. Given the need to broaden its pool of professionals worldwide, FIFA has recently reached out to the Member Associations and asked them to put forward applications of candidates with the potential to be assigned as FIFA Security Officers.

These résumés were assessed and a total 23 names were chosen – 16 females and 7 males. The newly-recruited officers have all gathered for a three-day workshop that finished on Thursday 26 May in Zurich, where they were trained on FIFA’s specific regulations and policies.

“This is already a group of experimented and active security professionals, but we want to make sure that all the specificities of this role, when working for FIFA, become second nature to them,” said FIFA Director of Security Ralf Mutschke. “Also, we realised that there was a severe gender and geographical imbalance within our pool of officers, so we deliberately made sure to ask the Member Associations to put forward the names of female officers. It is an important revitalisation step for FIFA’s Security division.”

Susan Watson, a qualified security officer appointed by the Scottish Football Association, has been coping with this gender imbalance for a long time in the United Kingdom and is happy to see an initiative that bears fruit on an international level. “It is a huge step forward,” she said. “I have been in this industry for 24 years and I know how challenging this has been, particularly during my first ten years. But at the end of the day people respect you if you know how to do your job properly, if you are prepared, regardless of the gender. This is what this course is all about.”

From international to local
The capacitation of security officers translates into benefits that move far beyond the realm of FIFA tournaments. By being acquainted with the consolidated processes and guidelines of big international events, the newly-appointed professionals transfer this knowledge to their federations and the organisation of local football games.

“There are some very interesting aspects about the standards adopted at a FIFA competition and that are broad and overarching enough to be applied on a local level,” explained Brigitte Biwole, who works with public law enforcement in Cameroon and is often appointed to work at games by the country’s football association.

This is because, no matter how smaller the scale might be, a lot of the safety and security issues of a local competition are comparable in essence to those of a major international event. It is a matter of concepts. “Take Swaziland, where I come from, for example,” said participant Nosipho Mnguni. “It is a small country with what looks like specific problems, but during the workshop I have seen a lot of procedures for security checking and for interacting with different stakeholders that will be tremendously helpful at home, particularly when we host international games.”

For Emily Lau, from the Hong Kong Football Association, the international exchange enhances the focus on one fundamental part of stadium safety and security: prevention. “There are many variables, even more so when it’s an international event: the host country, the venues, the background of the participating teams… But I see a lot of emphasis on the idea of preventing problems as a primary option to knowing how to handle them. This is valid everywhere.”