Rifles to control soccer hooligans

PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 April, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 29 April, 2002, 12:00am

First they got portable high-pressure water guns, shields made of special plastic and the hi-tech 'Spiderman' gun which shoots a reinforced nylon net that can trap two or three people at a time. Then they brushed up their martial arts training, conducting drills with officers playing the role of unruly fans.

Now, in the latest move to control hooliganism at the World Cup, Japanese police have been issued 1,370 automatic rifles.

Critics say the move is an overreaction as the rifles are unsuited to crowd control.

In the bustling Tokyo entertainment district of Roppongi, it seems policemen will be hard-pressed to tell the difference between bona fide fans and hooligans.

Some officers apparently believe hooligans are most easily identified by their 'inappropriate' dress.

Police are also stoking fear among residents in Sapporo, northern Japan, by showing them graphic videos of what they claim are hooligan activities.

Already residents in Yokohama, responding to a growing fear of hooliganism, have managed to scupper local council plans to erect a tent city to cater for visiting fans.

Other councils have opted against showing matches on big screens in public areas, a format successfully used in France 98. In Sapporo, where England play Argentina, police have banned the use of big screens and have announced they will allow indoor screening for Japanese fans only. Sapporo police have also shown local people videos of the Hillsborough tragedy in 1989, claiming that it was the result of hooliganism.

That the deaths of 96 fans in a crush before the FA Cup semi-final in Sheffield was largely a consequence of bad policing and poor crowd control is lost on the Sapporo police.

One Sapporo official said: 'It's scary to see that incitement can lead to riots. Now Sapporo officials only talk about hooliganism when they talk about the World Cup.'