Harsh measures vital to stop rioters
The opening of a new English Premier League season today will thrill football followers around the globe, not least in Hong Kong. British authorities will also be hoping that the distraction will help defuse the mob psychology behind the worst rioting England has seen for decades. That would be a touch ironic, because football hooliganism - unruly, destructive and violent behaviour by fans - has long been dubbed the English disease by the country's own media.
This time soccer is an innocent victim. The game between Tottenham Hotspur and Everton, set down for Spurs' London home ground at White Hart Lane, not far from where the violence began last weekend, has been postponed in the interests of safety. The concerns of police are understandable, even though about 10,000 extra officers have been assigned to London's streets to restore order and prevent violence from erupting again. Combined with heavy rain on Wednesday night, this has helped break the nightly cycle of violence. But the risk of it starting again in the vicinity of 30,000-plus soccer fans was not worth taking. The postponement will disappoint the two clubs' supporters, but local fans will still have nine games to follow.
Consideration was given to postponing all Premier League matches this weekend. This would have been a drastic step, but one which arose because of the burden the matches place on police manpower and the risk of further violence. As with terrorism, though, it is important to send a signal in the face of a challenge to law and order. The decision so far to go ahead with the rest of the programme, along with a 200 per cent increase in police strength on the streets, carries the message that the rioters are not going to win. Whatever the grievances or sense of injustice that prompted people from a wide spectrum of society to join a wave of mindless mob criminality, strong and wide measures, as promised by Prime Minister David Cameron, are what is called for to protect life, limb and property. With a year to go before the London Olympic Games, that is what sports fans all over the world want to see.