Facial recognition technology identified six blacklisted fans who tried to sneak into a previous A-League grand final in Sydney, but experts have warned it’s not necessarily the best way to tackle the difficult task of practically enforcing stadium bans.
Football Australia has issued a total of 17 bans to people who were involved in last month’s violent pitch invasion at AAMI Park, including three life bans and others ranging from five to 20 years.
Facial recognition technology appears to be the future for sporting venues around the world. SUPPLIED
But as the dust settles after the incident that shocked Australian sport and brought powerhouse club Melbourne Victory to its knees, now comes the tricky part for the clubs, competitions and venue staff responsible for putting these measures into action, which appears to be far easier said than done.
While four people on Football Australia or A-Leagues banned lists were prevented from attending the Melbourne derby, one of the main perpetrators was subject to a 10-year ban from all football activities by Football Victoria but still managed to get into the stadium and has since fled the country.
There are also unresolved questions about how spectator bans can be enforced at lower-tier facilities for women’s, youth, state league or other grassroots matches, where the security presence is greatly reduced in comparison to the stadiums where the full-time professionals play.
FA chief executive James Johnson admitted on Tuesday that stadium bans were “complex” but not impossible to implement, and required close collaboration and information sharing between sporting bodies, security and police to allow those manning stadium entry points to identify banned supporters.
Victoria Police say the enforcement of stadium bans is a matter for host clubs and venues. GETTY IMAGES
According to industry sources, however, the system is imperfect and, in many ways, archaic, heavily reliant on the memories of security staff and their ability to quickly match patrons with photos, names or other data related to people on banned lists. Inevitably, some slip through the net, and often they are the ones who can cause trouble at a sporting event.
In fact, industry sources have revealed that in a trial run of the software at the 2017 A-League grand final between Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory at the old Allianz Stadium, six people who were banned from setting foot in the venue were picked out before they could get past the gates.
Facial recognition technology was deployed at the World Cup in Qatar, where 15,000 cameras were equipped with the software capable of surveillance for threats of terrorism and hooliganism. Organisers trumpeted it as “the future of stadium operations”.
It is also in use at the Randwick Racecourse by the Australian Turf Club, which deploys technology from Oosto to identify known troublemakers and self-excluded gaming patrons, having previously struggled to spot repeat offenders when relying on the human eye or memory alone.
It is not widespread in Europe, where privacy rights groups have vehemently opposed moves by clubs in England, Wales, Denmark and France to use it at football matches. In some countries, people who are prohibited from attending games are required to report to a police station at kick-off time to ensure they do not flout their bans.
However, it is likely to be rolled out at more major sporting venues throughout the world, despite widespread concerns about privacy and efficiency – reflected in Australia by the recent uproar when it was revealed retailers Bunnings, The Good Guys and Kmart had been analysing CCTV footage to create facial profiles of customers, including children, without their knowledge.
Edward Santow, a professor at University of Technology Sydney, co-director of the Human Technology Institute, and Australia’s former Human Rights Commissioner, said facial recognition was not the “panacea” that many think it could be at sporting venues, and was far from foolproof in crowded areas with variable lighting and conditions.
“It needs to be very closely regulated and controlled,” he said. “Yes, the status quo doesn’t work very well, but you can solve that problem by creating an even bigger one.
“The more we use this sort of facial recognition in places like stadiums, the more we’re all basically part a police line-up every moment of our lives. And that really is a very significant incursion on people’s privacy.
“In Australia, we don’t have dedicated law on facial recognition, which means that the rules of the road are not clear enough, so you can have some pretty shonky operators, and we have had some, peddling their technology and causing all kinds of problems.”
Victoria Police said the enforcement of stadium bans was the responsibility of the host club and venue, but that those recently banned who are facing criminal charges are prohibited from attending A-League matches due to their bail conditions.
“Victoria Police will have no hesitation arresting anyone found in breach of these conditions,” a spokesperson said in a statement.
NSW Police were also contacted for comment. The Melbourne and Olympic Park Trust did not respond to a request for comment before deadline, including questions as to whether facial recognition technology is already in place at AAMI Park.
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