Blending security and fun is a tough balancing act

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 March, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 March, 2005, 12:00am

Yesterday's story of Hong Kong Stadium security staff seizing a nine-year-old's 'harmless' inflatable balls made me wonder whether they were 'overzealous', just doing their job at the World Cup Sevens. Or not.

I got to the stadium pitch without a pass or ticket. I chose a side entrance. Maybe the stadium's security cameras had me covered, but I was disappointed not to have my presence queried or to be frisked.

I wouldn't say security was 'overzealous' at the World Cup Sevens.

Bodyguards in the corporate boxes - who didn't want to be named, as their business is security - spoke well of their stadium counterparts, although one said part-timers were engaged for the tournament.

Maybe my walkabout was a one-off, because rugby fans were also impressed with the stadium security. Wire-rimmed hats, bottles and cans were quickly located and discarded, and searches seemed consistently thorough with younger-looking men, while mums and oldies sailed by.

'I'm used to being searched and I'd rather they did that,' said Supersport TV channel correspondent South African journalist Peter Davies.

A portly bloke called Chris agreed: 'They do the same in Australia,' he said.

Hong Kong Rugby Football Union chief executive Allan Payne says the security at the stadium depends 'on the threat assessment' in Hong Kong. 'I don't know what the threat assessment is at the moment, but I suspect it's low,' he says. 'But it's provided by the police and the Security Branch, and it depends on the threat assessment as to what level the union will decide to raise the security.

Payne says there will be 'about 800' security staff by today. 'You've got the security side of it, CSL, and the government stadium staff, who are the stewards, who tell people which box or gate to go into, that sort of thing,' he says. 'The police role is a command function and they are responsible for any crime that occurs in the stadium.

'The whole security concept was appraised obviously, about four years ago, when we had X-ray searching, which I instigated after 9/11.Obviously, the stadiums around the world would have been a great target. Over the years they have probably adapted it, to suit the public, in that we know it's a safe event.'

He says the stadium's security is thorough. 'When you come in, first thing in the morning, this stadium's already been swept and cleared - checked,' Payne says. 'It's a 'sterile' stadium.'

Those inflatable plastic balls aren't so harmless after all, says a tournament security expert who spoke on condition of anonymity. 'There are some issues here,' he says. 'Yeah, those balls are great fun. One, it annoys as many people as who enjoy it. They can be an issue, where someone's trying to grab one, and somebody starts a bit of argy-bargy. It's not safe for the players. If something like that got on, you could have a major accident. We've had occasions where we've had discs thrown and miniature rugby balls hurting people.'

Payne says: 'We had one girl who was hit in the eye by one of these things and sent her contact lense round the back of her eye.'

The trick to a successful tournament is a balance of fun and safety, the union's security chief says. 'Because 99 per cent of the people here want to have fun and watch rugby, they don't want to be distracted all the time by watching out for these objects,' he says.

'Also, if they are heavy handed ... you have got to realise there's also a cultural thing here. They are dealing with a different crowd. It's not as if it's like the football, where there's no booze served.

'Most of the South Stand staff are Ghurkas working for Securicor. They can handle it.'

Payne says his security staff are great. 'You've got to look at the way some of [the crowd] treat these [security] staff,' he says. 'These guys are heroes, come Sunday in the South Stand. They're normally soaked; people are throwing stuff at them. Very seldom do they crack to the point where they say, 'I'm going to take you out'.'

That's very reassuring, but I would have preferred a half-nelson for entering the stadium without a pass.