Supported by Uefa’s HatTrick IV programme, the kick-off event of the Bulgarian Football Union’s (BFU) fan dialogue project took place in Sofia on August 23, and will look into how the supporter liaison officer role can help improve dialogue with supporters.
Fan Dialogue: 2020 and Beyond is a new project jointly developed by the (BFU) and SD Europe, and aims to raise awareness about the importance of fan dialogue. The project, which has qualified for funding under Uefa’s HatTrick IV programme, seeks to implement best practice from abroad and develop innovative fan dialogue methods at national level among four key stakeholders: the BFU, clubs, supporters and non-football stakeholders such as the police, local government and the media.
The kick-off meeting welcomed SLOs and club representatives from the top two divisions in the Bulgarian league pyramid as well as representatives of the national police and the National Football Information Point (NFIP).
The official launch of the project was performed by Mr Mihail Kasabov, BFU Vice President and a member of Uefa’s HatTrick Committee, who said: “I am very pleased to welcome you here on behalf of the BFU and its president. Following the introduction of the SLO role in the top two divisions, the Fan Dialogue: 2020 and Beyond project demonstrates the ongoing commitment of the BFU to the implementation of a far-reaching fan dialogue strategy and our willingness to improve our relationship with our supporters.”
Kasabov continued: “At European level we have decided to support – through HatTrick – fan dialogue and social responsibility projects and strategies developed by national associations because we believe football is an integral part of society and has an invaluable role to play in driving social development and bringing its influence to bear.”
Mr. Anton Popov, Deputy Executive Director of the BFU, expressed the BFU’s appreciation for the work SLOs have completed with supporters across both leagues to date. The effort to introduce good conduct principles and improve the match day experience for all parties is expected to reduce or even completely eliminate fines imposed by the BFU Disciplinary Committee for improper spectator behaviour. Mr. Popov also stressed the importance of increasing stadium attendances, the need to tackle violence and explained the BFU’s sanction investment programme in children’s football.
The main part of the workshop featured Dimitar Christov (BFU SLO Coordinator), Andrey Kyuchukov (FC Dunav Ruse SLO and Bulgarian representative in the European SLO network), Nedelcho Mihaylov (Head of BFU’s Technical Sport unit), and representatives of the Bulgarian police.
Mr. Christov outlined the activities SLOs are expected to perform as part of their role and explained the idea behind the project and its next steps. He also undertook to convey to the BFU president, Mr Borislav Mihaylov, the challenges raised by the SLOs and pass on the comments and suggestions made by fans to the BFU Regulations Committee as soon as they are submitted via the SLOs.
Andrey presented the main outcomes of the recent European SLO network meeting in Gelsenkirchen and highlighted good practice examples from across Europe in the area of fan dialogue and SLO implementation. The police then informed participants about the national legislation on supporter, police and other stakeholder behaviour at football matches and discussed the challenges faced by all sides in the implementation of the law.
Speaking on behalf of SD Europe, Loukas Anastasiadis said: “Fans are a vital stakeholder in football and should be represented in key decision-making processes that affect them. Regardless of differences in opinion, a culture of constructive dialogue and participation should be cultivated and maintained between all stakeholders.
“Uefa has recognised this principle since 2007 through its support for SD Europe. It has also demonstrated a growing awareness of the importance of supporter participation in dialogue and decision-making processes through the adoption of the SLO licensing requirement (2010) and its support of member associations via the funding that is available from the current HatTrick cycle.”