The use of pyrotechnics at Scottish football matches is on the rise. The number of incidents, and the number of pyro devices being used, is increasing. The “Fireworks and Pyrotechnic Articles (Scotland) Bill” that was introduced this summer means that every one of these incidents is a crime, and that every supporter bringing a pyro device into a stadium is breaking the law.
But more important than criminality, pyro puts supporters at risk. Some of these devices burn at over 1000°C and can cause serious injury. The smoke produced can be harmful, particularly to people with respiratory illnesses or conditions. The noise and light from pyros can cause temporary damage to eyesight or hearing.
These devices are illegal and dangerous, and the legislation in Scotland effectively sets up a “zero tolerance” environment. But without the resources to identify and arrest those responsible for pyro use, this legislation has no chance of being effective. As a result, those using pyro move into the most congested parts of our stadiums, where they are least likely to be caught but where the risk of harm is highest. Instead of disposing of their pyro devices safely, they’re often thrown onto the pitch – where they could injure players, damage the grass, or disrupt the game… if they get that far. Otherwise they land in the middle of the stand, most likely hitting fellow supporters.
The current legislation, in the absence of sufficient resources to police it, makes the problem worse rather than better, and puts every one of us at risk.
In our view, four things are required if we are to keep each other safe:
Everyone involved in football – including the police and government – needs to accept that “zero pyro” is not a realistic possibility. If these devices exist, they will be used. The focus should be on minimising their use, and reducing the likelihood of harm – this will not be easy or cheap, and will increase stewarding/policing costs. Clubs will need support (with costs of staffing and equipment/facilities) if they are to be held responsible for close monitoring and intervention to implement this legislation.
Supporters need to speak up, and speak out. If you see someone about to use pyro in the middle of the stand, take action. Let them know that these devices are not designed to be used in a crowded area. Don’t give them the anonymity of being part of a crowd – they should be held responsible for their actions, rather than their club and the whole support being punished.
Changing fan behaviour is a gradual process, and is most effective through dialogue. Respectful, open, trusting conversations are required, which recognise that most fans using pyro do so because they want to support their club, and want to help create a great atmosphere. We need to help them do that in ways that do not put themselves, their fellow fans, or their clubs at risk.
We need to learn from elsewhere – Scotland is not the only country where pyro is used! Un-controlled use of pyro is illegal almost everywhere, and there are different approaches to its use in football – some are more effective than others. We should look closely at how countries like Norway, Austria and France deal with this problem. Each has experimented with permits / exemptions that allow pyro to be used at football matches with minimal risk – with advance agreement about what will be used when, where, and by who.
As with many things in life, pyro is inherently dangerous, but we can’t simply wish it (or legislate it) away.