On June 8th of this year, soccer¹ fans from all over the world will gather around television sets, neighborhood pubs, and sports stadiums to watch the UEFA European Football Championship, popularly known as Euro 2012. This year the Championship will be hosted jointly by Poland and Ukraine. The competition has traditionally been one of the world’s most popular sporting events. Teams representing 16 European nations will be playing a total of 31 games over four weeks in order to decide which country has the best football team in Europe. Approximately half of these games will be played in stadiums across Poland in cities such as Warsaw, Gdansk, Wroclaw and Poznan, while the rest will be hosted in Ukraine.
Security across both countries is sure to be tight, as the respective law enforcement organizations make preparations to deal with large crowds, opportunistic crime, and even terrorism. Indeed, 350,000 foreign tourists are expected to travel to Poland and Ukraine in order to catch a glimpse of these games. This should present several challenges to the security services, as football games in Europe have often been a catalyst for crime, violence, and hooliganism.
Visitors to the Championship should be mindful of groups of drunken young males, known as hooligans, who often perpetrate violence acts at European soccer matches. These groups are easily spotted as they often consist of a large number of inebriated young men wearing team colors and acting in a rambunctious manner. Many times these individuals will make noise, sing songs, or shout chants. Most of these groups are simply rowdy; however, some have been known to become violent. Travelers should stay away from such large gatherings and avoid provoking these individuals in any way. If a problem is encountered, it is best to seek the assistance of the police rather than confronting these groups directly.
Due to a host of factors, Poland is clearly the safer of the two venues of the 2012 European Championships. Indeed, Poland generally has a low to moderate rate of crime, although there are incidents of muggings, carjacking’s, and theft. Yet, crime tends to be higher in Poland’s major cities, where most of the matches are scheduled to take place. Groups of pickpockets operate near hotels, shopping centers, and ATMs. However, pickpocketing is particularly common on or near public transportation. Thieves have been known to target crowded and nighttime trams and buses. They have also been known to prey on people in train stations carrying large articles or cumbersome luggage.
For those driving cars during Euro 2012, there are other security concerns. Although there have been improvements recently, Poland’s road system is considered poor by European standards. Roads are generally narrow, poorly lit, and frequently under construction. Driving can be made more difficult by the presence of pedestrians, cyclists, and trams, which often compete with cars for road space.
Unfortunately, there have been reports of theft from parked cars and smash and grab operations targeting vehicles stopped at red lights. That is why it is important for visitors to stow their valuable items, even when they are in the vehicle. There have also been some cases of highway robbery. In these instances, cars often flash their lights, honk their horn, and/or drive closely behind a target vehicle in order to get the driver to pull over. Once pulled over, the victim is subject to a criminal scam or threat of some kind. There have even been some cases where the criminals have posed as police officers. In many cases, the victims of these types of crime are targeted because they have a non-Polish license plate.
Visitors to Poland should always carry their passports or other official form of identification with them at all times, as this is required under Polish law. Furthermore, many soccer fans will choose to imbibe during the competition. However, they should be aware that public drunkenness is frowned upon in Poland and will attract the attention of law enforcement authorities. Indeed, Poland has a zero-tolerance policy towards drunk driving. An individual with a blood-alcohol level as low as .02 could be the subject to fine or prosecution. Some drivers have even faced imprisonment for driving under the influence.
Although Poland has no native terrorist groups and has not been the subject of recent terrorist attacks, it is believed to be at increased risk for an attack during the Championship. Indeed, the concern over terrorism has increased recently due to the April bomb attacks in the Ukrainian town of Dnipropetrovsk that injured 37 people. Many security analysts fear that terrorist groups could target the Euro 2012 competition. After all, large sporting events tend to be the target of terrorist operations. Moreover, Poland did participate in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan making it a more appealing target to militant Islamists. The country’s security services are also less experienced than other nations in dealing with this type of threat. This may make it a “soft target” in the eyes of terrorist planners.
The Euro 2012 competition set to take place in Poland should prove a memorable experience for most visitors. After all, Poland is generally considered to be a safe and hospitable country, and English is spoken by most of the nation’ young—at least to some degree. Most tourists should encounter few problems during their visit, so long as they use some old-fashioned common sense and good judgment.
Emergency Number for Poland (European-Wide): 112
¹ The words football and soccer will be used interchangeably throughout this article.