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Implementing effective security at major sports events: Part 1 - Building key relationships

Wednesday, 08 June 2016

At 5.26pm on 31st October 2015 as the final whistle blew at the Rugby World Cup, there was a sense of relief at tournament headquarters that we had got through the event without any major security incidents. However, we weren’t out of the woods yet: still needing to steer a jubilant crowd of 81,125 home safely via public transport and ensuring the mass departures day for teams, officials and guests two days later went smoothly.

As the lawyer, you can never quite relax until the very last element of the event has been delivered, knowing that all your robust planning and contractual rigour could easily be eclipsed by a major security incident totally outside of your control. This was thrown into sharp focus 13 days later as the world witnessed the Paris terrorist attacks, a focal point of which was the St Denis stadium that was hosting a high profile international football friendly between France and Germany.1

How has the landscape of hosting the major events of today been affected by increased global security concerns and what role does the lawyer have to play? In the run-up to Euro 2016 and the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games, this two-part special feature uses the hosting and organisation of the Rugby World Cup 2015 in England and Wales (the “RWC”) as a case study to examine the legal team’s role in ensuring an event organiser is best equipped to deal with security threats at major events.

Part 1 takes a high level look at the organisational structure for securing a major event, including the key relationships upon which the successful delivery of major events is reliant, and the involvement of the lawyers in operational planning.

Part 2 takes a closer examination of the lawyer’s role in the technical drafting of the legal documentation, including the protections that can be embedded in the legal framework underpinning the event, and some practical considerations regarding security threats.  


The Security Threat

There has been much commentary about the heightened awareness of potential threats from terrorist activities: very recently there was the evacuation of Old Trafford and the cancellation of Manchester United v Bournemouth in response to a security scare.2 Even though the Old Trafford incident turned out to be a false alarm, it served as a reminder to fans of their vulnerability and to event organisers of the need for clear procedures, communication and risk management.

This incident acted as a real life test of the stadium’s evacuation and security plans – not many venues or events get the chance to test out their incident response plans to a packed stadium of dedicated fans. So how can you be prepared for the potential security threats as the event organiser and where does the lawyer sit in the process?


Fostering Key Relationships

Forming the backbone of the RWC were the venue use agreements with the 13 big stadia hosting the 48 matches and the 42 team base facilities (the “Venue Agreements”) and the host city agreements with the corresponding local authorities around the country (the “City Agreements”).

The relationships built with these key stakeholders were critical to the success of the tournament. The legal team was tasked with negotiating complex agreements to strike the balance between taking a hard line on securing delivery and the standards expected of a world class event against the need of winning the trust of the counterparty to form a close relationship given both sides were dependent on each other to succeed.

This was no easy task as the majority of the venues and host cities are well versed in putting on big sporting or cultural events and, understandably, are naturally resistant to event organisers telling them what to do. So we didn’t. The contracts required the parties to work collaboratively to carry out risk assessments and assess the threat level to develop a set of detailed operational plans (e.g. security plan, contingency plan, incident management plan). These plans were bespoke for each venue/city and sat behind the contract to enhance the existing operations rather than dictating that the venue/city implement a tournament-wide security plan developed by the tournament organisers in isolation.

Through the Venue Agreements, the RWC uplifted the existing security teams at the stadia and the team bases rather than bringing in a third-party security team to provide security services tournament-wide. This strategy helped the relationship enormously as it acknowledged that the venues were already used to putting on big sporting matches and thus were best placed to roll-out security staff familiar with the venue layout and procedures. That said, to enhance the venue’s standard security the RWC:

  • increased the resources so there was a heightened presence of stewards and security staff as a show of strength against the most likely security threats;
  • provided tournament-specific training to share intelligence and security prevention strategies; and
  • encouraged collaboration between the teams to think creatively about the wider security strategy.

This approach set the foundations for a strong, resilient and joined-up team. Specialist security contractors were appointed to provide support for the rugby teams and some of the team bases and they were on standby if circumstances required additional resources to be mobilised at short notice.

As part of the RWC structure, a national security steering group was established which met at regular intervals to formulate and continuously appraise the tournament security strategy and share information. This steering group was made up of senior representatives drawn from the tournament organisers, the appointed security advisers and experts, the national police co-ordinator, the Department of Culture Media & Sport and the Home Office and led to a strong relationship operationally. This strategy was communicated down to the venues and cities at monthly meetings.

As a requirement under the City Agreements, city steering groups were set up with the local authorities at each of the cities and met on a monthly basis to build on the meticulous planning and preparation. These steering groups had representatives from the tournament organisers, various departments within the local authority and the emergency services to ensure that the operational plans were approved by all the key stakeholders. These plans set out a specific command process and clear lines of communication for the implementation of any incident response.

The operational and legal teams invested heavily in building robust relationships with key service providers e.g. transport providers, fanzone delivery partners and team base facility providers knowing that unexpected circumstances can always arise in the events world. Having service providers and suppliers that felt engaged and part of the team secured their assistance in helping to find solutions when the tournament was faced with challenges. Sometimes, something as simple as conducting meetings in person, inviting contractors to meet tournament ambassadors, or providing stakeholders with branded paraphernalia set the tone that together, as a team, the objective would be achieved and any challenges met head-on and overcome. The knock-on-effect of a security incident is far reaching and if relationships have been invested in upfront, counterparties tend to be more willing to improvise and adapt to assist in tackling later hurdles.

The legal team at the RWC also focussed on building partnerships with the other internal teams of the organisation (e.g. security), probing the operational teams to understand in detail exactly what was being procured and how and in what circumstances such services would be deployed. This gave the operational team the confidence that the lawyers were facilitators when identifying risks, helping to provide creative solutions to mitigate those risks. Together, legal and security took the time to delve into the very detail of the security operations, down to the breakdown of security guard hours, shift patterns and look-out positions within the various venues. This level of detail helped to thrash out the likely issues and potential exposures on cost and delivery which enabled robust contracts to be formed to curtail escalating security costs from the venues.


Insights into the Operational Planning

Contingency plans were developed, including in respect of venues and suppliers in case matches needed to be cancelled, postponed or moved elsewhere. This required flexible Venue Agreements that dealt directly with cancellation or postponement and specified the mechanisms for payment in the event that the match was rescheduled either at the same venue or at a different venue. It was important to fix a price upfront for any hire charges if a venue was acting as a contingency venue for other matches and ensure that the venue and cities could mobilise the necessary services to put on the rescheduled match.

This was a particular challenge for the RWC as many of the venues were football stadia and the tournament took place during the football season. A great deal of work was therefore put into scenario planning and testing the scheduling to find a workable solution and ensure those scenarios were not hampered by the contract and provided the RWC with certainty on price and delivery. The majority of the contracts with key service providers (e.g. transport, hotels, technology); and licensors for the use of operationally critical land, also required those parties to have contingency plans in place to be approved by the tournament organisers.

Incident management plans were developed to set out the internal response procedures, communication and reporting lines and clarity on anticipated responsibilities to ensure that the teams on the ground knew what to do (and what to avoid) in a co-ordinated approach. These incident management plans formed part of the testing and readiness exercises which the legal team participated in. This involved representatives from all the internal teams (e.g. venue and event delivery, city delivery, security, transport, medical, legal, comms, ticketing, finance, logistics, technology and workforce) participating in desktop exercises and simulating various scenarios (including security incidents at the venues, fanzones, team hotels and spectator transport hubs) to see how the teams would interact and the information flow.

These simulations were vital in ensuring communication lines were well-rehearsed and were rolled-out as part of the testing and readiness exercises with each of the venues and at the city steering groups. This provided the wider team with a precise structure for the implementation of the security strategy directed at a higher level; and ensured specific lines of communication between multi-agencies and stakeholders were understood. Throughout the tournament itself police were present at the tournament headquarters to feed in to the agreed communication process and ensure seamless information sharing.

That concludes Part 1. In Part 2, we take a closer look at the necessary legal documentation and the protections that can be embedded in the legal framework underpinning the event, and we address some practical considerations regarding security threats.  



Joshua Robinson, Inti Landauro, ‘Paris Attacks: Suicide Bomber Was Blocked From Entering Stade de France’, 15 Nov 2015, last viewed 2 June 2016,

Luke Brown, James Ducker, ‘Security company gaffe behind 'outrageous' Manchester United Old Trafford bomb blunder’,, 16 May 2016, last viewed 2 June 2016,

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