Should our soccer games be policed?

The images of police faced with rioting soccer fans at Sunday’s match in Thessaloniki between local club PAOK and Olympiakos have triggered much debate about the measures that should be implemented to curb such outbreaks of violence. It is clear that the police could have intervened, if they had wanted to, and stopped the unprecedented violence at the Thessaloniki soccer pitch and averted the widespread damage it provoked. Officers could have gone even further and arrested the main PAOK troublemakers – who set fire to a section of the stands when Olympiakos equalized – but also the entire gang of thugs who contributed to transforming the pitch into an arena and the game into an extremely dangerous ordeal. The hardcore troublemakers who were throwing stones and other makeshift missiles at police were limited to a particular section of the stands, so it would have been easy for officers to isolate and arrest them. But instead of doing this, police settled for «covering» the firemen who had been called in to extinguish the blaze and then returning to their original posts, permitting the soccer thugs to continue their vandalism. Much has been said and written about whether police have the right to impose order inside a private sports venue that constitutes a particular club’s home ground. But once the force, rightly or wrongly, takes on such a role, it should at least see it through efficiently. Otherwise, it does not just expose itself to mockery but also almost encourages criminal activity.