UEFA Takes Step Forward on Supporter-Club Relations
There are two important lines for fans buried deep into the 91 pages of UEFA’s requirements in its Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play regulations that will come into effect for the 2012/13 season — the lines reading that clubs “must have a liaison officer to act as the key contact point for supporters” and that said liasion officer “must regularly attend meetings with the club’s management and must collaborate with the security officer on safety and security-related matters.”
This new requirement, an important step in establishing the fundamental principle for European clubs to have a dedicated officer working with supporters and clubs on safety and security, was worked out by UEFA in close consultation with Supporters Direct (who assist fan groups in 17 European countries). Their press release explain further:
Supporter Liaison Officers at clubs already exist in a limited number of European countries and primarily help improve the dialogue between the fans and the clubs they support. Most importantly, SLOs must be credible with fans, and therefore should have experience with and contacts to the networks in the fanbase at the club.
They inform the fans about relevant decisions made by the club management board and, in the other direction, communicate the needs of the fans to the board, as well as building relationships – not just with various fan groups and initiatives, but with the police and security officers, They will also engage with fan liaison officers of other clubs before matches to ensure that the fans behave in accordance with security guidelines.
To implement the new requirements, a network of SLO project contacts from each national governing body across Europe will be created and work together with the UEFA club licensing team and Supporters Direct to assist clubs and supporter groups improve communication in each of the 53 UEFA member associations. This year more than 600 clubs applied for a UEFA licence with many more applying for domestic licences based on the same or similar principles. Hence, the broad scope and significance of the SLO project.
This is a substantial step not just for the practical benefit of it that should be obvious enough, but by establishing the seriousness of the need for clubs to work with supporters in this way in UEFA’s regulations and setting a minimum basis for this relationship.
From the American side of the pond, this is something that US Soccer ought to consider including in the regulations it is drawing up for the professional clubs in its league, at least from Division II level up. Many MLS clubs, for example, do have a liaison for supporters who works in this manner, but too often it’s a secondary or tertiary role for that employee, who is often (unfortunately) actually a ticket sales executive, meaning their time, abilities and training is ill-suited to working proactively with supporters in areas like safety and security. In the Chicago Fire’s case, our supporters’ association is fortunate to work directly with an extremely competent liaison well-suited to the role, but on a nationwide level, that isn’t always the case. Regulations like these would help ensure clubs take the employment of such a liaison with the appropriate training seriously at all times.