It’s not every day a professional sports club is involved in a Senate Committee public hearing.
But the Western Sydney Wanderers were in that position on Tuesday morning, as a hearing into state infringement into personal choices, decided to listen to the debate about the club’s behaviour at games and subsequent police enforcement.
It was also a rare occasion where members of the Red and Black Bloc appeared on the public record — they waited for a big moment, and were recorded on Hansard, no less.
The inquiry, lead by Liberal Democratic Party Senator David Leyonhjelm and Labor Senator Sam Dastyari, asked the question: could a more collaborative approach with fans at games help understand the culture of passionate support while weeding out the few that engage in violent behaviour?
Here are the broad themes of the hearings.
1. Crowd control vs. football culture:
Senator Leyonhjelm and RBB member Matthew Adamson — who said he had worked for a crowd management company in England — both referenced academics that have extensively researched fan and crowd behaviour at sporting events in Europe and suggested de-escalation is key.
Senator Leyonhjelm repeatedly spoke about using plain clothed police, rather riot squad officers dressed in their dark ‘‘pyjamas’’.
‘‘I don't think we've learnt the mistakes of lessons abroad,’’ Mr Adamson said.
RBB representative, Fadi Bushara lamented a football fan stereotype he believed Wanderers fans were subject to.
‘‘Now there's a stigma around the RBB,’’ he said.
‘‘People think, ‘‘here we go, troublemakers, vigilantes’’.
‘‘This is what the police follow.’’
Wanderers CEO John Tsatsimas strongly condemned any criminal behaviour, but said football culture wasn’t yet understood.
‘‘We are a point of difference to other parts of the sporting market,’’ he said.
‘‘It is our concern that there is a blanket approach to the Wanderers, and not dealing with the issue.
‘‘The football culture is not understood, nor is the active support, in particular, understood by those who make those calls.’’
2. Strike Force police presence:
The police presence at Wanderers games was detailed to include mounted horse units, dog units, public order and riot squad, plain clothes and general duties police.
But, perhaps most remarkably, it was revealed that Strike Force Raptor police were also deployed at Wanderers.
Those police are top gang squad officers who target outlaw bikie gangs.
Parramatta Deputy Lord Mayor Steven Issa raised the presence of the gang squad officers during a passionate defence of the positive addition the Wanderers have been to the region.
‘‘We have police on horseback, dog squad, public order and riot [police], two blues, task force raptor,’’ he said.
‘‘I think that image detracts from the image of the city ... and the economic benefit to the region.’’
He didn’t think it was necessary.
‘‘To me I think it is antagonistic,’’ he said.
‘‘I personally walk into a stadium with my three year old daughter and get padded down.
‘‘That's not something I'd like my daughter to see.’’
Wanderers fans have independently confirmed the squad’s presence at games to Fairfax Media.
3. Relationship breakdown:
A common theme of the meeting proved to be the relationship between the RBB and police, and whether that could be strengthened.
Time was spent going back and forth trying to decide if regular communication and consultation took place and whether invitations to meetings were accepted or declined.
Mr Bushara said a change of Parramatta LAC commander had spoiled the relationship.
‘‘We've had a change at Parramatta LAC - there's a miscommunication there,’’ he said.
He said the RBB met with the previous commander every second week, until he moved on.
‘‘Superintendent [Wayne] Cox came in and the relationship sort of changed from there,’’ he said.
‘‘I don't know if its his lack of understanding of football whether that be crowds, active supporter groups or culture, things changed.’’
The Senators discussed policing tactics with Police Assistant Commissioner Denis Clifford (North west metropolitan region command), who said: ‘‘I know that things that turn people away are are violence, foul language and safety.’’
‘‘Unfortunately that is something associated with supporters of this code of football and must be stamped out.’’
Eventually, after many tactics were discussed, Assistant Commissioner Clifford said, ‘‘we’ve tried everything,’’ when Senator Leyonhjelm suggested the enforcement tactics made fans think the police were out to get them.
The mood in the room changed, and the senators suggested meetings between the Assistant Commissioner and perhaps Commissioner Andrew Scipione and the RBB might help facilitate better crowd control.
Both parties agreed to meet.
5. FFA bans:
Mr Bushara detailed what he believed to be an arrangement between NSW Police and the FFA that was used when police couldn’t charge anyone for their behaviour at grounds but still resulted in their expulsion.
‘‘If you're escorted out you're spoken to by police, your details are taken down,’’ he said.
‘‘And within weeks you're issued with an FFA ban.’’
‘‘That stops you from attending any FFA games across Australia and stops you signing up to local football.’’
This came after detailing what Mr Bushara described as a full-bay shutdown tactic when police wanted to speak with even just one member of the crowd.
‘‘Its effectively putting an entire bay under arrest,’’ Mr Leyonhjelm said.
‘‘So if you don't adhere to their corralling ... you'll be escorted outside and subsequently banned?’’
Mr Bushara said fans were served a ban notice, sometimes at their homes, and insinuated there was a private company involved in investigating fans.
Senator Dastyari said the RBB evidence was ‘‘extraordinary.’’
‘‘The evidence you've given today is quite extraordinary and I can image quite frustrating,’’ he said.
6. Trouble makers:
Senator Dastyari said the problem seemed to link back to be a ‘‘handful of - call them what they are - d*******s,’’ which Cr Issa agreed with.
7. Announcement of restrictions:
The genesis of the hearings appeared to be the statement by the RBB on September 23 that police had detailed a list of restrictions on the supporters for the 2015-16 season.
There was some confusion about how that came to be, with Assistant Commissioner Denis Clifford unable to explain where that information was passed to the RBB.
Mr Bushara said they came after the RBB met with the club and police on September 10 where the restrictions — including removal of banners and flags, no marching to games, no standing in seats, and zero tolerance for swearing, including in chants, according to the RBB - were detailed.
The post resulted in a fan backlash that saw most restrictions lifted an a compromise of club-appointed marshals patrolling marches and active support bays.