SD Europe was delighted to attend the 2017 Football Supporters Europe (FSE) European Football Fan Congress (EFFC) in Ghent and Lokeren recently. Over 300 fans were part of the workshops, held over two days from July 7th to 8th, and SD Europe team members took part in two key sessions on the agenda.
FSE CEO Ronan Evain welcomed participants to the Ghelamco Arena in Gent before attendees had a choice of four different sessions: Away Fans at European Competitions, Football & Refugees, Council of Europe Convention on safety, security and service approach at football matches, and Alternative approaches to pyrotechnics.
SD Europe’s Stuart Dykes presented an outline of our work around the Convention, which has been open to signatures from various countries last summer and aims to ensure a safe and welcoming environment in stadiums and provide measures regarding safety and service. The Convention is a key tool for the work of Supporter Liaison Officers across the Europe.
The afternoon plenary saw a wide-ranging discussion on the topic of ‘Supporters, terrorism and states of emergency’ and the increasing risk of managing major international sporting events in today’s world.
Day 2 was hosted at the home of Sporting Lokeren
The second day of sessions saw a focus on FSE’s Fan.tastic Females Exhibition, the issue of Accessibility in football – hosted by CAFE – and a discussion on Accountability in Football, led by SD Europe’s Niamh O’Mahony.
The group first discussed what is meant by Accountability. If you’re accountable for an IT system at work for example, you’re in charge of its upkeep, any improvements and challenges, all communication with key stakeholders and, ultimately, taking responsibility for its general welfare.
When it comes to Accountability in football, supporters are integral to keeping their football clubs honest and as transparent as possible, no matter the ownership structure. The session first heard from a number of different fan-owned clubs – including representatives of YB SK Beveren (Belgium’s first fan-owned club), HFC Falke, AFC Wimbledon and Cork City FC, hearing how such governance structures allow for significant accountability and oversight of decisions.
Next, representatives from ACTasONE, which represents supporters of Royal Antwerp, spoke about their attempts to secure a Golden Share in their football club previously. That initial objective has fallen through, but they are now trying to strengthen the club’s ties with its local community through a range of initiatives including the possible appointment of a Community Manager.
GeelZwart, likewise, have been highlighting concerns they have about the ownership of their football club Lierse S.K. – which is currently owned by an Egyptian. The organisation believes stronger protections for football clubs in Belgium are urgently needed.
Concern in Belgium
The plight of OH Leuven was also raised – it was recently the subject of focus from a Chinese investor before eventually being purchased by the Thai businessman who also owns Leicester City in the Premier League. It is questionable how interested such owners may be in the long-term development of the club itself and the nearby communities.
Speaking during the session, Mr. Ivo Belet MEP – who is a member our Erasmus+ project’s Advisory Board – spoke about the importance of football clubs having community links and initiatives, and also expressed concern about the current number of foreign owners in the top tiers of Belgian football and the impact it may have on the future development of the sport in Belgium.
Mats Enquist, Secretary General of the Swedish Football League, said he was interested to hear the many concerns being raised by supporters during the session and explained why his League’s 50+1 structure (where members of all sporting clubs need to own at least 50% of shares + 1 share) is the back bone of its steady development over the decades.
Supporters from clubs in Scotland, Holland and the UK also contributed to the discussion, and chat continued long after the final whistle!