More than 1,300 “violent and abusive” football fans in England and Wales will be banned from travelling to the World Cup in Qatar next month following a season disfigured by a dramatic surge in disorder at matches.
Measures will come into force this Friday requiring 1,308 people with a history of football-related violence or disorder to surrender their passports, preventing them travelling to the Gulf state or neighbouring countries from where they could commute to games.
Fans banned from football in England and Wales, along with any supporter who has “previously caused trouble and is deemed likely to do so again” will be prevented from travelling to the region from 10 days before the World Cup starts on 20 November until the tournament’s conclusion a week before Christmas. “We will not let the behaviour of a minority of lawbreakers tarnish what will be an exciting tournament,” said the home secretary, Suella Braverman.
The crackdown follows a sharp rise in disorder and pitch invasions, with football-related arrests rising by nearly 60% last season compared with the last full year before the pandemic.
Recent Home Office data reveals that incidents were reported at 1,609 of the 3,019 matches played over the course of last season – more than half of all fixtures. Yet the number of individuals banned from heading to Qatar is only slightly higher than the 1,200 Britons banned from travelling to Russia for the World Cup four years ago. That is despite Wales joining England to play at next month’s tournament, though the Home Office did not provide a country-by-country breakdown of fans who will have their passports seized.
For the 2014 tournament in Brazil about 2,200 England supporters received football banning orders, and around 3,200 individuals were banned from travelling to South Africa for the 2010 World Cup.
In a statement, the Home Office said it had responded to the recent disorder with a number of measures and warned that any banned supporter attempting to reach Qatar could face six months in prison and an unlimited fine.
Those facing bans can seek permission to travel to other countries away from the Gulf while the World Cup is being staged, but even that will be far from straightforward as they will be subject to thorough checks.
Police will also be able to stop previous offenders judged likely to cause trouble from travelling to the Gulf. As part of a targeted operation at ports, if such people are caught attempting to reach Qatar, they will face a court hearing for a football banning order within 24 hours.
The Home Office added that police in Qatar would also be gathering intelligence, warning that fans considered to be “posing a risk” could get a football banning order on their return to the UK as well as being arrested for offences in Qatar.
“As with all events of this nature, we are working closely with the host authorities on the safety of British nationals attending and on delivering a successful and enjoyable event,” Braverman said. She added: “Violence, abuse and disorder is not tolerated here, and this criminal behaviour will not be tolerated at the World Cup, which is why we are taking this firm approach.”
Sources are confident that most fans will comply with the banning orders; 99% of supporters who received one surrendered their passport before the 2018 tournament.
Statistics published last month revealed that 516 new football banning orders were issued during last season after a total of 2,198 arrests.
Among the new measures to tackle violence at football matches is a power to extend football banning orders to cover online hate crime linked to the game. The Home Office’s statement that “abusive” fans will be among those prevented from travelling to Qatar suggests a number may have committed such offences.
Ministers have also extended football banning orders to cover class A drugs offences at matches following reports of widespread cocaine use at games.