Close Protection and lessons from the Cricket World Cup
Having been involved in the provision of close protection at the Cricket World Cup (CWC) earlier this year it is perhaps an appropriate time to reflect on some of the key factors to consider when providing personal security for individuals and teams involved in elite sport.
Firstly, it is important to establish the ground rules as everyone is different. You need to understand your client’s tolerances when it comes to the media and public attention. While some love the media and direct contact with adoring fans, others value their privacy. Attitudes can change over time, by the end of a long tournament, such as the CWC, lasting many weeks, players may become less tolerant and amenable to the constant demand for autographs and selfies. Consider cultural factors too if managing an overseas team. The norm in terms of attitudes and behaviours towards the general public can vary considerably, as can those of the public of course. The friendly autograph hunter on being barred entry to the hotel can quickly become an angry and disruptive presence (happens a lot).
Secondly, remember that match days are different. Players will most likely become completely focused on the task at hand. Many will want to follow their own strict pre-match preparation, even rituals, without interruption. The normal small talk may no longer be appropriate and contact with the public strictly off limits. They will want everything to run smoothly on these days, of all days, so sound planning and preparation is key.
If overseeing a large team prior to leaving the hotel, check you have everyone! Know who your habitual latecomers are, as well as those most likely to forget something, a match-day shirt (which happened) or that lucky pair of socks. Most importantly, check they have not forgotten their venue passes (which nearly happened) and that they have them on their person rather than attached to their kit bag, a common preference, but means they are hidden away at the back of the coach’s baggage compartment when you arrive at the security gate.
Check if you need a pass for the vehicle too. It’s not helpful to be refused entry on match day for lack of a pass then having to persuade a reluctant steward that the consequences of allowing entry without one were far outweighed by those of causing a delay to the start of the match. With 24,000 spectators in the ground and over one billion people watching on TV, the management would be extremely unamused to find out that a crucial delay was all down to Frank, the steward overseeing Gate 7, (yes this nearly happened too).
Next, make sure your journey management is in place for travelling to and from the venue. When the last-minute replacement coach driver says he knows where he is going that may simply mean he has entered the postcode of the stadium into his satnav. He does not necessarily know where Gate 7 is when it’s well away from the main entrance, or the location of the drop off point and dressing room; so recce first if you can.
Remember also that the deserted streets and stadium you might experience on a prior visit may be full of pedestrians and traffic on match day, so adjust your timings to allow for this. As well as traffic congestion the police or local council may unilaterally close roads (which happened after a match on one occasion), so make sure you have worked out your alternative and secondary routes, particularly in the area around the venue.
As well as knowing your routes, try and recce inside the venue if you can and if there’s a pre-match security briefing a day or two before, try to attend. Understanding what resources the venue will have in place in terms of security and medical staff is important. There may be a dedicated ambulance for players and officials for instance and often a venue duty doctor. You need to understand the venue’s incident procedures in detail, whether for a full stadium evacuation or a minor pitch invasion during the game.
A word of caution though, remember that venue staff including security and stewards, will probably be a mix of full-time employees, volunteers and contracted-in personnel so knowledge and ability will vary. A pitch protection team is all well and good but only if they are as fast and agile as the pitch invaders, which in some cases they are not! Otherwise you may find you need to intervene to help protect any players on or close to the pitch. Get to know the key staff on the security and operations side so if you need help you know who to ask.
Often general helpers and liaison staff are volunteers hired for the tournament based on enthusiasm, more likely to be fans of the game than experts in their allocated role. Just because a venue liaison officer worked for 30 years as a dentist and was opening batsman for the second eleven at Foggy Bottom Cricket Club it does not mean he is capable of organising the move of a complete cricket team and a tonne of cricket gear to the other side of a crowded stadium when the bus gets stuck in the crowd. So be ready to take charge if need be.
Post-match be prepared for a variety of responses from the players, check the score line! Take note of who had a good, or a bad game. Reactions will vary from elation to stony silence. They may want to step out and meet the fans or sit in the corner of the dressing room undisturbed. You need to read the mood and go with the flow.
Non-match days are different of course, usually more relaxed and perhaps involving a mix of training sessions, hanging out at the hotel in the gym and leisure. Hotel venues may be chosen in advance, so you have to live with the imperfect but try and ensure that everyone’s rooms are together if possible. Rooms on the 20th floor of a high-rise hotel with a small busy concourse not big enough for the team bus is not ideal but may be a reality and you will need to adapt. So be prepared for a fire evacuation down twenty flights of stairs in the early hours of the morning (yes this happened too).
It’s challenging but rewarding and inspiring to work alongside dedicated and professional elite sportsmen and women. The CWC was a fantastic event and a great result for English cricket and I hope in our own small way we managed to get it right on the day and had a good innings too.
David Curran MA CSyP FSyl Chartered FCIPD
Director, Edson Tiger