Close Protection in Sports
Conducting close protection (CP) operations and close protection services in sports is a complex blend of managing the physical and reputational risk of high-profile performers, their families, associated staff members, and the club/brand itself. CP is a risk management and risk mitigation asset designed to allow individuals to conduct their usual professional routine without any undue risk of harm, intimidation, loss or distraction from their routine.
The Need for Close Protection in Sports
In a sporting capacity, players and high-profile individuals are, by their profession, required to interact with the public on a regular planned basis, and it is the role of the Close Protection (CP) team manages those and the many unplanned occasions dynamically.
The attention some of the high-profile performers attract requires a CP presence throughout all their activities whilst representing the sports club or brand. These activities require a CP team to risk assess performers' and staff's travel and accommodation needs. It requires facilitating interactions to sign autographs and engage in corporate activities such as media events and public appearances.
Finally, it also requires facilitating sports performers' movements at events and on competition days to ensure high performers are not interfered with, given the great amount of financial and business consequences should any acts impede or reduce the level of performance of the sports team or individual.
The certainty of media interactions exacerbates the fundamentals of operating within a CP environment within the sport and that all actions of the protection officer and CP team will be observed by far more than the immediate audience. The reputational consideration is also coupled with a high degree of fan social media, where a protection officer and team will have any action or behaviour exposed and potentially manipulated to show a particular bias either negatively or positively.
In summary, the fundamentals of operating within a CP environment remain consistent. Still, depending on the popularity of the club, performer, or sports star, the amount of fan and media attention received will have a high degree of impact on any security risk analysis and the behaviour of the CP team. It is paramount that individual and team safety, high performance and brand integrity are protected at all costs.
Close Protection Security Management in Global Sports Events
Conducting close protection taskings within a global sporting event should be treated very much like any regular security service, but it would be problematic to fail to acknowledge the unique challenges that are represented within the security needs of such a global sporting event.
Understanding the Risks and Threats
The layers of security required to ensure all participants and teams within the event are safe are multi-layered and host a different customer base at each level. Looking at the other customers attending such a sporting event, we have to consider not only fans and athletes and sporting stars but also media personnel, medical staff, engineers, and corporate partners, to name a few.
Each of these different customers will require access to some areas of the facility and access to other customers but not others. Whilst a close protection team may not provide outer cordon security, it will have to navigate these different layers of protection and ensure they are aware of who can be where for obvious safety reasons but also ensure it have the correct accreditation to move between event zones.
This navigation will also ensure that clients and VIPs have the correct passes to access their desired areas, a detail which may cause an additional problem and professional embarrassment to the close protection team and the client if not checked.
Within sporting events, a Close protection Officer must be aware of the event management standard operating procedures for such scenarios as evacuations due to fire or something more sinister, security team to have a detailed understanding of the layout of the building for tactical and safety reasons.
They will also impact appropriate embus and debus locations. Usually, at embus and debus locations, athletes and clients of public interest may be exposed to interactions with the public, which will require conventional close protection tactics. However, it is worth noting that at this level of security, fans or members of the public may have yet to be searched, and there is a high degree of chance that they will be operating a recording device such as a mobile phone.
Whilst inside the event arena, there is a high degree of probability that some fans and spectators will go the extra distance to get a picture or an autograph or, in light of the current climate, may wish to make a public statement about political issues and world events. There will in the UK be SIA-licensed stewarding to prevent this.
Still, experience informs me that a close protection officer or team will need to be prepared to remove unwanted individuals or be ready to protect their client from attack or disruption from potential threats.
Collaboration and Communication
Whilst operating within the security event space as a close protection officer or team, the relationships you develop and the ability to collaborate with other actors within the event will significantly impact the task's success.
On a security level, communication with event management organisers will allow for an effective recce of the site to be completed and a formal introduction to key members of staff who will influence the CP team's ability to drop off and collect their client, obtain the appropriate accreditation and iron out any operational issues the team may have.
Collaboration with local police is also essential as they may be providing a police escort from the clients' accommodation to the venue, and within some sporting events, the local police may be a critical factor in accessing the venue and supporting the close protection officer with any security threats or incidents.
Other security professionals will operate within the same space during significant events, each with mutual and conflicting objectives. It is important to navigate this space professionally and without conflict not negatively impact the operational effectiveness of the service being provided.
Professionals sharing information around security and pulling resources is essential when operating within a large venue as it means more eyes and ears on information such as security issues and hostilities within the event and any such logistical issues like post event road closures, etc. An often undervalued aspect of collaboration is ensuring that members of the CP team or protection officer has the opportunity to use the restrooms and have access to a hot drink and or food.
Often, the events are long and will not allow any members of staff to bring in large backpacks with resources and supplies. Making friends with catering staff or host organisers is an effective way of obtaining some light refreshments, ensuring that all members of the team are performing optimally.
Managing Public Image
Managing public image for the client at large sporting events is no different from any other close protection tasking. With large sporting events, however, the exposure to the media, fans, the public and social media has increased significantly. Being appropriately attired is a basic fundamental aspect of maintaining a client's image, coupled with the distance and tactics deployed with the client at any such engagement with the aforementioned customers.
In the sporting space, clients will want to be seen interacting with their fans and members of the public but will also want a degree of security provided to negate the risk of fans grabbing them or autograph hunters being too aggressive in their tactics to get merchandise signed.
As a protection officer or close protection team, being overly forceful or aggressive with fans or members of the public is highly damaging to the client or the sporting brand, and one must demonstrate a high degree of situational awareness and soft skills to navigate these interactions. Where possible, a CP officer should refrain from being captured by social media, photographs or planned media interviews.
On the topic of social media, non-verbal communication, physical behaviours and what is said can be easily recorded and manipulated in an unregulated manner, which again can cause embarrassment to the client and or sporting brand; therefore, a CP officer or team must be extremely vigilant at all times in combating this digital repetitional threat. Furthermore, on this topic, it is worthy of note that other actors within the event may want to take a photo of the client when they are preparing and relaxing, and again, this can have a detrimental effect on public image.
Finally, CP officers and teams should refrain from taking private photographs at sporting events as they expose confidential information about the team, such as tactics or changes to a team for example. Local unvented photographs may also provide an opportunity for penetration testers and individuals looking to exploit any security vulnerability.
Protective Services for World-Class Athletes and Elite Performance Teams
Regarding bespoke protective services and security of world-class athletes, it is vital to recognise and address their unique circumstances and requirements. These individuals often face significant public exposure and popularity, making them potential targets for various threats.
By considering personalised threat assessments, secure transportation, close protection officers, cybersecurity measures, enhanced residential security, travel security, event security coordination, and emergency response planning, a comprehensive security framework can be established to safeguard athletes in all aspects of their lives.