Major flaws in stadium security exposed
Eighteen months from the biggest sporting event in New Zealand's history, the Rugby World Cup, glaring holes in security at some of the country's biggest stadiums have been exposed.
The Sunday Star-Times set out to test security at three world cup venues – Auckland, Hamilton and Christchurch – following a recent spate of terrorist threats against sporting events worldwide.
It was alarmingly easy to carry banned goods into the stadiums undetected, and move around inside unchallenged.
On Friday Police Minster Judith Collins criticised the actions of reporters who posed as terrorists.
She said the actions were "insane" and they had been carried out by "fools".
- Entered Eden Park during Thursday's cricket international between New Zealand and Australia dressed as construction workers – wearing hard hats and reflector vests hired from a costume shop. Despite having no tickets or ID, the two reporters had unfettered access to construction areas and other restricted zones within the stadium, walking past at least six security guards and getting within arm's-length of Australian Doug Bollinger while he was fielding. At one point the reporters stood next to four police bomb squad officers as they surveyed the new grandstand. At no point were the reporters questioned or asked for ID.
The Australian players are particularly concerned about security right now, following threats by al Qaeda against this month's IPL tournament in India, and have demanded that rigid security be put in place before they take part in the tour.
- Took toy explosives and detonators, as well as alcohol, in a bag and on the body, into Waikato Stadium during the March 5 Chiefs-Reds Super 14 rugby game, with Red Badge security staff failing to search one reporter's bag. He walked freely around all parts of the stadium, approached the Reds' bench and shook hands with a team manager, entered the VIP corporate box area and spoke with boxer David Tua, got players including All Black Sitiveni Sivivatu to sign the bag containing the toy explosives and walked unchallenged through the players' tunnel, getting within a metre of the changing rooms before finally being asked to leave by a security guard.
- Took toy explosives into Christchurch's AMI Stadium during last weekend's Blues-Crusaders Super 14 game. A Red Badge guard squeezed our bag but said he was not allowed to put his hands inside as that could expose him to accusations of theft. It was not possible to enter restricted areas, but after the game the reporter, along with hundreds of fans, was allowed on to the field to mix with stars such as Zac Guildford and Owen Franks.
Rugby World Cup security bosses said they were "amazed" and "disappointed" with the lax security, but pointed out security now was nowhere near as tight as it would be in 18 months.
Rugby World Cup Minister Murray McCully yesterday said the government was concerned at how easy it was for our reporters to get into Eden Park dressed as contractors, and he would investigate the "adequacy" of the ground's security measures.
Players, too, expressed concern. Rugby Players Association boss Rob Nichol described the Star-Times' findings as a "wake-up call" for those in charge of security at sporting events.
He said New Zealanders were by their nature trusting and took people at face value, but that should not apply to security guards. "It's not hard [for a guard] to ask politely what your role might be. I think for a member of the public to be able to walk down a players' tunnel or walk up to the players' bench without someone asking questions [is surprising.]"
Some players were concerned at a growing trend at grounds such as AMI Stadium for crowds to be allowed onto the field to mingle with the athletes. "It [security] is always on your mind. You want to be approachable... but it only takes a couple of idiots and it can potentially ruin it."
Cricket Players' Association director Heath Mills said he was "extremely disappointed" at how relaxed security was during the New Zealand vs Australia international and changes needed to be made.
"We expect a high standard of security for our players when they travel abroad so it is only fair that we offer the same to players coming here. Quite clearly you've shown that isn't happening," Mills said.
"Sure, there is not as much of a threat in New Zealand but it only takes one lapse for there to be catastrophic consequences."
Superintendent Grant O'Fee, head of the police operation for the Rugby World Cup, was surprised the reporters got as far as they did.
Speaking from London, where he has been meeting with police to discuss security planning as part of a wider global fact-finding mission, O'Fee said: "I am absolutely amazed anyone got near the players' tunnel, with or without [toy] explosives."
Gavin McFadyen, a former assistant police commissioner now heading security for Rugby New Zealand 2011 Ltd, was "disappointed" by the breaches. "Trust me, we're looking at every aspect, particularly around match venues... relating to access... we'll be leaving no stone unturned. This is an international event and we'll be judged on how we perform."
Security personnel, stadium management, police bosses and Police Minister Judith Collins attacked the Star-Times, labelling the breaches a "stupid stunt" and said no one was looking for explosives because there was no current threat.
Jon White, acting deputy police commissioner for operations, was concerned there might be "copycat" actions and police would prosecute if there was evidence of an offence.
"Typically, security arrangements are calibrated in relation to real threats and risks. If security arrangements are tested for a contrived risk then it is entirely possible that a gap will be found," he said.
But other security sources involved in Rugby World Cup planning said the Star-Times' investigation served as a reminder of what needed to be done to bring New Zealand up to international standard prior to the global tournament.
One source said New Zealand was a "soft target", although it was debatable whether the country, or the event, was on the radar of international terrorists. Another source was particularly concerned by the ease with which the reporters were able to move around inside the stadiums.
"That shouldn't happen, full-stop. A person shouldn't get from one zone to another, especially near players. That's a poor breakdown, I'd be kicking arse."
Despite at least one pitch invasion during the Chiefs-Reds match, Red Badge director Gary Wilton said there were no problems with security on the night. He said it was not the role of the media to test security. He would not comment further.
Waikato Stadium spokesman Oliver Te Ua said security was set after a threat and risk assessment for the Super 14. "Key risks" included pitch invasion, smuggled alcohol and access to secure areas. "We continue to develop and improve our security measures on an event by event basis," he said.
Bryan Pearson, chief executive of the company that runs AMI Stadium, would not discuss the stadium's bag-search policy. He said a review of security was under way and a range of improvements would be implemented before the world cup. He said it was "highly unlikely" that fans would be able to mingle with players on the field after world cup games.
"We have to reach a balance between the security checks that need to be done and the ease of access to the venue, and making sure people feel welcome."
David Kennedy, chief executive of the Eden Park Trust Board, said he took safety and security seriously. "With the ongoing redevelopment and construction, it's a challenging time to try and measure how things are going, relative to what's going to happen at the world cup. You're looking at quite a different risk assessment profile."
The company providing security at Eden Park, Strategic Security, declined to comment.
The Star-Times understands security during the Rugby World Cup will be heavy but low-key, and unless there is a specific threat, there will not be metal detectors and full-body searches.
"We don't want people drowned in security," O'Fee said. "It's supposedly a fun festival, a pleasant event. It's not an occasion for paramilitary presence and police officers patting everyone down at every corner."
McFadyen said the world cup was the biggest sporting event to be held in New Zealand and there was a huge amount of work to be done around security. VIPs including members of the royal family were expected to attend.
"They [VIPs] form an integral part of our planning and preparation as well. We are taking everything into account, including what is happening internationally and regionally. We're covering all aspects, we're working hard on it." He advised fans planning to attend world cup fixtures to arrive early, and leave their bags at home.
McFadyen said authorities would also have legislation to deal with security breaches, including the Major Events Management Act of 2007, which introduced tough new sentences, including jail and fines, for pitch invasion. He said people would not be able to get near players during games, but there would be times when teams would mix in the community.
O'Fee said the public would notice changes: "There will be more private security, more police officers and specialists. This will be a big operation. We are preparing for the really bad things, but hoping that they won't happen."
Sunday Star Times