In Italy, SLO training is organised largely at league level due to the scope of the licensing requirement, which applies in the top three tiers of the Italian football pyramid. This means that this season a total of 102 clubs are required to have appointed at least one SLO. On 4 March, the second tier of the Italian game, Lega Serie B, held its inaugural training workshop for clubs at its headquarters in Milan with a broad range of topics and speakers. The workshop was organised in cooperation with SD Europe’s Italian affiliate, Supporters in Campo (SinC) as part of a wider partnership between SinC and the various Italian governing bodies.
Around 40 club representatives and SLOs had the opportunity to learn about developments in the domestic SLO project from Paolo Bedin (Serie B general manager), Federico Smanio (Serie B marketing manager) and Antonio Talarico (licensing manager and SLO coordinator at the Italian Football Federation), while Diego Riva of SinC explained the project from the perspective of Italian supporters. Stuart Dykes (SD Europe consultant and UEFA SLO coordinator) and Jürgen Bergmann (SLO at German second-division club FC Nürnberg) gave presentations on the theory and practice behind the SLO project and how it is managed in other European countries, while police representatives Alberto Intini and Roberto Massucci (chairman and vice-chairman of Italy’s National Observatory on Sport) expressed their support for the project and optimism that it can help to improve relationships between supporters and the different stakeholders.
The workshop was introduced by Mr Bedin, who said “Supporters have to be in our focus. We have to know them and understand their needs. The SLO role can help us do this“. Speaking for the National Observatory, Mr Intini said: “The role of the SLO has been identified as a key position by Italian security task force. Other countries are further down the road but we are attempting to catch up. Two weeks ago we attended an SLO workshop held by Serie A. We believe that the SLO is a key role as a bridge between clubs and fans but is equally important in the relationship with other institutions, especially ahead of key matches. The SLO is useful as a bridge between the fans and the police and will hopefully close the gap between them“. Mr Massucci added: “The situation between fans and police is not improving. We have to solve this problem, which also affects other countries. The Italian police therefore wish to define SLO guidelines on a European level. We need to involve supporters and focus on our relationship with them“.
Antonio Talarico presented the results of the SLO survey launched by the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) in October. The survey shows that some progress has been made but there is still a lot of work to be done before the SLO project is fully up and running. Under the FIGC’s reporting system, which is also new, SLOs are asked to award marks on various criteria such as the standard of cooperation with the other stakeholders, the quality of stadium facilities, and ease of access and departure from the stadium. Mr Talarico said the FIGC reporting system was already generating useful data for the evaluation and identification of best (and worst) practices and explained how the FIGC is now developing monitoring systems, including SLO feedback after every match, in an effort to further develop the role.
Federico Smanio and Diego Riva produced a joint presentation explaining the aims of the workshop and highlighting the importance of balance between the social and business dimensions of football. “The negative picture painted by the initial survey results doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work to change it“, Mr Smanio said. “We hope to continue working together and improve those numbers in the next sixth months,” addding that “there are five words that characterise any good SLO: dialogue, credibility, balance, relationship-building and prevention“. Diego Riva explained how Supporters in Campo, a democratic umbrella organisation of 18 supporters’ trusts, are involved in the project and why it is essential that they are, not only in terms of structured dialogue but also with regard to club ownership. Supporters are key football stakeholders and should be considered as such.
After his presentation of the European perspective, Stuart Dykes said “We hope that the SLO becomes a full-time role at many clubs, a dedicated contact point inside the club that is not combined with duties in other departments wherever possible. A strong relationship must be maintained with the other club departments and a far-reaching exchange of information and best practice is needed“.
Jürgen Bergmann, one of the most respected SLOs in Germany, shared his ten-year experience as an SLO at FC Nürnberg in the areas of relationship-building, de-escalation, prevention, internal club cooperation, and working with other SLOs and the other stakeholders. “It’s important that the SLO is known by the fans and enjoys credibility and respect from all the main stakeholders“, he said. “It’s also important that the SLOs show respect to the fans. Dialogue and communication are not just words on paper, they have to be lived. So it’s also important to talk to the groups who cause problems. They won’t go away if you ignore them. We have to engage with them to bring them onside“.
The participants had lots of questions for Jürgen and an interesting and productive discussion ensued. This interaction between SLOs from different countries is a vital part of developing an understanding of the SLO role. We are still at the beginning of a long journey in Italy but the active involvement of the different stakeholders in the project augurs well for the future.
The Supporter Liaison Officer and Article 35
Under Article 35 of the UEFA Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play Regulations, clubs across Europe are required to appoint a Supporter Liaison Officer (SLO) to ensure proper and constructive discourse between them and their fans. The introduction of this licensing requirement constitutes a landmark in club-supporter relations and emphasises the importance attached to dialogue and communication between clubs and fans. The SLO project is coordinated on behalf of UEFA by SD Europe across all 54 member-states. Today, more than 1,000 clubs in Europe have appointed a SLO.
To find out more you can visit the SD Europe website where more information on the project is available, along with FAQs, resources and handbooks produced by many Football Associations for SLOs and supporters. You can also follow the official SLO account of SD Europe on twitter (@SuppLiaison) to get all the latest updates and subscribe to the SD Europe mailing list to receive the latest developments in the area. If you have any further questions that are not answered in the FAQ or have a press inquiry contact SD Europe by e-mail.