October 08, 2016 - 7:00 AM
TORONTO - Banning or limiting alcohol sales isn't likely to reduce rowdy fan behaviour at large sporting events, a British professor who has researched hooliganism said Friday in the wake of a beer can-tossing incident during a Toronto Blue Jays playoff game earlier this week.
"There's no evidence it's reduced drunkenness," said Geoff Pearson, an expert in soccer crowd behaviour and policing who works at the University of Manchester. "And there is evidence it may actually increase drunkenness because people will drink more before they go in."
Pearson said there are several other measures, many already in place in Canada, that are more effective at curbing bad behaviour. Violence among soccer fans has been a problem in Britain for decades, but significant steps aimed at reducing that violence were taken in the late 1990s, said Pearson.
"The first change was legal: certain activities were classified as being a criminal offence such as throwing an object at a (soccer) stadium," Pearson said.
That is also a criminal offence in Canada, as seen this week after Toronto police charged Ken Pagan, 41, of Hamilton, with criminal mischief.
Police allege he is the fan who threw a can of beer that narrowly missed Baltimore Orioles player Hyun Soo Kim as he made a catch during the seventh inning of Tuesday's wild-card game at the Rogers Centre.
Pagan, in an email to The Canadian Press on Wednesday night, identified himself as the man in the police photo and his lawyer told reporters his client was going to wait until court to have his say.
Pearson said it also became a criminal offence in Britain to drink alcohol within sight of the field, which has led to a significant decrease in "missile throwing" since bottles aren't allowed in the stands.
The Blue Jays said in a statement Wednesday the team will "enact heightened security measures and alcohol policies that will ensure the fan experience and safety of everybody involved."
As of Friday, the team hadn't released any specific details about what those security measures and alcohol policies will be as Game 3 of the American League Championship Series goes Sunday night with the Jays leading the Texas Rangers 2-0 in the best-of-five series.
The second measure to improve fan behaviour, Pearson said, involved structural changes to stadiums after a 1989 fan stampede at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, where 96 fans died and more than 700 were injured.
Closed-circuit television cameras were installed, which helped identify any wrongdoers and led to more successful prosecutions, Pearson said.
"CCTV is credited anecdotally as being the most significant change in terms of fan behaviour inside stadiums," he said. "Fans pretty much know if they commit criminal offences then they will be identified on CCTV and action taken against them."
Toronto police Const. Craig Brister said security video from the stadium played a key role in the beer can investigation.
"Rogers Centre has a fantastic security camera system," Brister said, adding police are confident they have identified the right individual.
The final measure needed for good behaviour is a change in policing strategies and tactics, Pearson said.
"Police changed their behaviour from treating all (soccer) fans as potential hooligans and instead looked to isolate those that did cause problems and treated the vast majority of fans as tourists or consumers rather than individuals posing a risk," he said.
Brister said the Toronto force takes a backseat to the stadium's security team and won't get involved until incidents reach a certain threshold, which allows officers to be hands-off.
Pearson said it's important to keep the Toronto incident in perspective.
"A missile being thrown and not hitting anyone really wouldn't make the newspapers anywhere in Europe," he said, laughing.
But he does warn that fan culture is always changing and two incidents in playoff games in the past year — last season Blue Jays fans showered the stands with beer after a controversial call that led to a mischief charge against one man for allegedly tossing a beer that sprayed a baby — could suggest "the start of something bigger."
"But I think this really is just a blip," he added.
News from © The Canadian Press, 2016