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Interior view of Waldstadion stadium, also known as Deutsche Bank Park, one of the host stadiums that will be called Frankfurt Arena during the UEFA Euro 2024 European Football Championship is pictured during the "Stadium Open Media Day" in Frankfurt am Main, western Germany on June 11, 2024. (Photo by Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP) (Photo by KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP via Getty Images)

Interior view of Waldstadion Stadium, also known as Deutsche Bank Park, one of the host stadiums that will be called Frankfurt Arena during the UEFA Euro 2024 European Football Championship. (Photo by KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP via Getty Images)

Germany Ramps Up Security Efforts as UEFA EURO 2024 Begins

Editor's Note: This article has been updated to include comments from Germany's Ministry of the Interior and Community.

Germany will take on Scotland today in the opening match of the much-anticipated Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) European Championship 2024 (EUROs).

Twenty-four teams will play in 10 host cities across Germany throughout the course of the one-month tournament. This year’s event marks the first time that a unified Germany is hosting the EUROs, which is among the most popular sporting events in the world.

“Soccer is the most popular sport on Earth, so [the EUROs] is among the most popular tournaments right behind the World Cup,” says Mike Ballard, director of intelligence for security firm Global Guardian. “You have interest not just within Europe, and the host country of Germany, but globally as well of folks who are supporters of all these different teams.”

During two sales windows in 2023, for instance, UEFA received more than 50 million ticket requests and 146,000 volunteer applications. Nearly 2.7 million fans are expected to attend games in stadiums throughout the tournament, with an additional 12 million in designated fan zones, according to The Athletic.

With this level of attention also comes risks, in the form of terrorism, cyberattacks, natural disasters, hooliganism, and more. German federal and state interior ministers created a national project group on the tournament in 2019 to coordinate international cooperation, police information sharing, and crime fighting ahead of the tournament.

At the helm of this effort is German Federal Minister of the Interior Nancy Faeser. She has called the tournament an opportunity to bring people together, “especially in view of the current threats from Russian aggression abroad and extremism at home,” according to a press statement.

“The security of the European Football Championship in Germany is our top priority. Our security authorities are doing their utmost to protect the tournament against all possible threats,” Faeser said. “We are focusing on everything from Islamist terrorism to hooligans and other violent offenders, to cyberattacks and other threats.”

Security efforts for the tournament were ramped up last week as Germany implemented border checks to be carried out beginning 7 June—including its borders with Denmark, France, and the Benelux countries. The checks will be used to detect violent offenders and keep them from entering the country.

“The Federal Police Directorate in Koblenz will monitor travel movements at a total of nine border crossing points on the land borders with France, Luxembourg, and Belgium,” according to a press release. “Joint patrols will be carried out here with the Federal Police Inspectorate in Saarbrücken and colleagues from the French Police Aux Frontières and the Service National de la Police Ferroviaire. There is also a joint police station for priority operations.”

Along with a major visible German police force, 580 police officers from other countries will be patrolling in the tournament host cities. The increased police force will also be placed outside of venues to deter pickpocketing, property crime, and hooliganism. The German Federal Police, however, will take the lead for railway policing, according to a press release.

Germany has also enhanced its information sharing efforts to keep security personnel informed. It is using the International Police Cooperation Center (IPCC) in Neuss to keep federal, state, and international liaisons in the loop. The IPCC will also be used to coordinate deployments of police officers from across Europe and to evaluate security-related information relevant to the tournament.

Thousands of emergency and rescue workers will also be on call to be prepared to respond to heat waves, torrential rain, and other large-scale emergencies.

“The Federal Office of Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance and the Federal Agency for Technical Relief are also represented in Neuss in order to be able to provide assistance in the event of major disasters, for example with warning systems or technical assistance,” a press release explained.

Given the popularity of the event, terrorism—both from groups and lone actors—is a concern. On Thursday, for instance, Reuters reported that the Islamic State had called for attacks on the tournament.

But Ballard says that Germany has a lower threat profile compared to France, which is preparing for the other major sporting competition of the summer: the Olympics. One of the reasons for this is that Germany’s military has not been as involved in counterterrorism operations abroad.

“When you have a national army that is taking part in counterterrorism operations abroad, oftentimes that makes them more of a target domestically,” Ballard explains. “Germany just doesn’t have that same level of international activity from a counterterrorist or countermilitia insurgency perspective.”

Ballard's primary concern related to terrorism is that someone might use the EUROs as a dry run for a larger attack at a future event, including Paris 2024. Ballard also has concerns about civil unrest and protest activity—similar to the activity seen in France.

“France has a long history of civil action, civil engagement, protests, unrest, strikes, and rights demonstrations than can disrupt transportation and logistics,” Ballard says. “And Germany also has its own host of protests and demonstrations, so that’s something that we’re also keeping an eye on.”

It’s unlikely that there will be any physical aggression from Russia targeting Germany during the EUROs, but Ballard says that he anticipates there will be psychological operations—called psyops—online to negatively influence the outcome of the EUROs.

Russia has been producing propaganda and disinformation related to the Olympics with the intent to make France look bad. This is in retaliation for France’s ongoing support of Ukraine and the continuation of Russian efforts to undermine the Olympic Games.

“There’s a large behind-the-scenes effort of Russian psyops to try and undermine the sense of safety and security around the Olympics,” Ballard says. “I think you’re likely to see something similar pop-up in Germany during the EUROs given that Germany’s also been supportive of Ukraine during the conflict.”

Given this dynamic, Ballard says its important to get event-related and emergency information from trusted sources—including embassies, consulates, and security firms—to help “debunk” bad information that might be circulating online.

A spokesperson from the German Ministry of the Interior and Community told Security Management in an email that the tournament organizer, the EURO 2024 GmbH, is responsible for communicating tournament news. But federal and state authorities plan to use various communication channels, including social media, to keep fans, competitors, and residents informed. 

“It is up to the responsible authorities on site to decide which specific instruments to use,” the spokesperson said. “The authorities on all government levels have been preparing for the UEFA EURO 2024 for years and can build on vast experience in dealing with crises and emergencies. They will use their established channels, i.e. for warning residents or evacuating people.” 

Another threat unique to attendees at soccer matches is hooliganism. This is activity where organized groups who support a specific team initiate fights or engage in violence with opposing team supporters.  

Hooliganism is specific to soccer because you have these “really rabid fan bases, and you combine that with a lot of drinking over a long period of time, maybe someone’s team lost, and they’re trying to pick a fight or looking for any excuse to get rowdy,” Ballard says.

Given their decades of experience dealing with the groups, police forces are typically well prepared to handle soccer hooligans, but Ballard says his firm recommends for clients and travelers attending the EUROs to avoid hooligans and groups of people who appear to be threatening, intoxicated, and wearing the same team’s jersey.

“Those situations can get out of control. It can be a little bit unpredictable. There’s certainly an element of group think which can lead folks to make some bad decisions,” he explains.

Another threat that is top of mind for stadium security practitioners is that from uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones. 

When asked how officials were preparing to detect, deter, and counter the threat of malicious drone activity, the minister's office spokesperson said that drones and other flight vehicles will be strictly restricted around the competition venues and fan zones during the tournament. 

“The security agencies pay special attention to airspace protection, especially focused on detecting and defending against uncrewed aerial systems,” the spokesperson said. “The German security authorities have the necessary abilities to recognize and counter threats at an early stage.”

This is one area that Ballard says he is watching to see how event organizers and security practitioners respond to the threat of drones. France, for example, has invested an anti-drone system for the Paris 2024 Olympics and plans to implement no-fly zones in the surrounding airspace.

The threat of rogue drones is more pressing now because the war in Ukraine has acted as a “proving ground for drone warfare,” Ballard says. And with the commercial availability of drones, individuals with a working knowledge of them can easily obtain a drone and turn it into a threat.

“I think of the velociraptors in Jurassic Park, trying out the electric fence at different spots,” Ballard says. “It’s such a low cost, but potentially high impact, threat activity.”

For more on security at athletic competitions, check out our June issue of Security Technology: Sports Security.