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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Jun, 2, 2012

Euro 2012's massive security challenge

As its team prepares to take to the pitch at Euro 2012, tournament host Poland is bracing for its biggest security challenge in decades.

With hundreds of thousands of fans from across Europe set to flood in, Poland is sanguine about heading off risks ranging from hooligan brawls to terrorism.

As the first edition of the 16-nation tournament behind the former Iron Curtain, Euro 2012 is a crucial showcase.

Terrorism fears swirling around major events such the quadrennial European championship have led host nations to boost security over the years.

That's not to say the Poles see a major risk.

"There is no sign of the existence of any real external threat concerning the security of our country during Euro 2012," President Bronislaw Komorowski said after a recent meeting of his National Security Council.

Euro 2012 kicks off in Warsaw on June 8 and ends on July 1 in Kiev, capital of fellow host Ukraine.

Safety in the skies is a major plank.

A total of 2300 charters and 13,800 scheduled aircraft are due to land in Warsaw alone.

"We're expecting to break all records for volume of traffic in June," said Andrzej Ilkow, head of flight security at Warsaw's Chopin Airport.

"We're ready to handle up to 60,000 people a day, arrivals and departures combined."

Ex-communist Poland joined NATO in 1999 and has held Euro 2012-related air exercises with its US allies.

From June 7 to July 2, the Polish military will mount a round the clock operation, with no-fly zones in force over the teams' hotels and training grounds, as well as the stadiums on matchdays.

"If necessary, military aircraft will intercept, identify, guide or force planes to land, fire warning shots and, as a last resort, destroy them," the air force's General Lech Majewski told Polish news agency PAP.

A thousand troops will be tasked with air defence during the tournament, out of 3300 involved in Euro 2012 security.

A further 9000 will be in reserve.

The military's crisis-unit chief Colonel Miroslaw Banasik declined to disclose the risks in the crystal ball.

"The range of scenarios is very broad," he said.

But he pointed to the July 2011 massacre of 77 people in Norway by right-wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik, and a stampede at the 2010 Love Parade in Germany that claimed 21 lives.

A more typical threat is hooliganism.

While the spectre of violent Poland fans was raised at the 2006 World Cup in Germany and Euro 2008 in Austria, there was little trouble.

But concerns are different on home turf. Poland is home to what the police estimate is a club hooligan hardcore of 5000 in a nation of 38.2 million.

Long accused of being too lax, it swung into action after violence marred last year's cup final.

The law now allows fast-track handling of cases in stadiums, as well as increased electronic tagging to ensure individuals hit with match bans are kept out.

Over recent weeks, dozens have been arrested in probes of "ustawki" - pre-arranged brawls between rival Polish clubs' fans that have claimed lives over recent years.

Though the authorities underline that the vast majority of fans from Poland and beyond are peaceful, policing is being beefed up.

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