By Jed Stone

The Security and Safety Challenge

Soccer is a sport known for its contention, competition, and rivalry. Soccer clubs in England feature their very own soccer gangs who will ruthlessly fight, with little positive consequence. Fans will riot in South America to celebrate their national team, often leading to police intervention. Time and time again, soccer fans and hooligans all over the world will act with little rationality and great passion to show their support and devotion to their team. In many cases, fans are able to stay in control and exercise their fanaticism safely and cooperatively. Other fans are not so capable.

Last year, Chile hosted the Copa America and ousted Argentina in the finals to capture its first Copa America title in Chile history. In an enduring match that made it to penalty kicks, Messi was the only Argentine able to find net, as Chile won 4-1 in the penalty kicks.[1] However, the excitement did not end there. Chile and its fans took to the streets, rioting in celebration of their historic victory. They took down Argentina and Messi; they won on home turf; they captured their first title. Fans took to the streets, fired guns, looted a supermarket, resulting in 3 deaths, several injuries, and a rather unusual response – anti-riot water cannons launched at crowds to disperse them.[2] Certainly a response one has not confronted in the United States.

Source: EPA

Source: EPA

In recent history, the United States has not dealt with wide-scale rioting, and has certainly not confronted thousands of foreign visitors posing such a risk. Across the country, police have been widely criticized for their excessive use of violence, and unnecessary roughness when confronting an assailant. 10 US cities including Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Boston, Phoenix, New York, and Orlando will host the soccer matches, requiring respective police forces to monitor behavior. Currently, each city has not made public statements as to the preventative measures they plan to take to avoid any rioting and violence, though a plan likely exists.

Source: Reuters

Source: Reuters

We can take a look at Soldier Field in Chicago as a case study for the security threat and tactics we may see this summer. Last November, the Chicago Bears played the Denver Broncos in Chicago days after the Paris attacks. Heightened security in all large venues would be expected across the country. Fortunately, undercover cops exposed a massive security threat with great potential at Soldier Field. Soldier Field employs a third-party security company to manage much of its risk, and in this particular incident, two security employees sold all-access security passes to 3 undercover cops for just $80.[3] This sort of threat exposes just the level of false security we may have when attending a largely attended, heavily secured game. However, this threat is also a great opportunity and test-run for the system to be checked and improved so that there is no risk come June. However, in recent history, the Chicago Police have not had to deal with any rioting behavior similar to what could accrue this summer. What we can assume is that the Chicago Police will have been prepared with scrutiny to handle all threats swiftly and safely. Of course, the police department has a tough reputation dating back to the 1968 riots over civil rights.[4] However, we can use abroad experiences to enlighten our own with regard to soccer security threats and solutions.

Soccer fans in the US may be disappointed to find that some measures to reduce violence may impede the standard of professional sport viewership. For instance, a Duke student who attended the 2014 World Cup in Brazil travelled to three different cities and took note of two clear measures designed to quell violence and riots. First, the clock for stoppage time was not kept up in any of the games, to reduce the chance of riots. To an emotional observer, the moment the referee chooses to end the game during stoppage time can seem extremely controversial and partial. A team down by a goal may be driving up the field in a great offensive moment as the referee sees his clock hit three minutes thus blowing the whistle. Second, no replays were shown in the stadia. This strategy may pose a challenge to the viewers and fans. In the US, we have come to rely on replays in many cases to judge the validity of a referee’s call, to enjoy the beauty of the game, or to catch a glimpse into an incident. While plans have not been released detailing whether such methods will be used to minimize conflict amongst fans, it would not be surprising to follow suit.

Lastly, the police force of each host city will be tasked with the unusual pressure to handle crowds effectively. Rarely are so many fans from a different country so populated in a US city to watch a soccer match. Soccer itself drives passion to the point of violence out of many fans, but being in a foreign environment could drive uncertain behavior. A combination of high tension from the game plus potential anti-American sentiment could elevate the levels of threat. Additionally, the extent to which police exercise their power could also impact potential violence. Much of this is speculative, but certainly a logistical factor to be witnessed in the upcoming tournament.


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How to cite this page: “Security”, Written by Jed Stone(2016). Copa America Centenario 2016 Guide, Soccer Politics Blog, Duke University, (accessed on (date)).



[1] ESPN Staff, “Chile beat Argentina 4-1 on penalties to win country’s first Copa America”, ESPN FC, July 4, 2015,

[2] Martin Domin, “Three deaths, mass looting and arrests in Chile amid wild scenes during Copa America victory celebrations”, Daily Mail Sports, July 6, 2015,

[3] Dan Mihalopoulos, “THE WATCHDOGS: Insecurity at Soldier Field exposed risks — judge”, Chicago Suntime, April 16, 2016,

[4] Normal Mailer, Brief History Of Chicago’s 1968 Democratic Convention”, CNN,