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Police issue football ultimatum

Acting Deputy Commissioner Martin Weekes (File photograph)

The Bermuda Police Service have threatened to stop football being played at Police Field if clubs that use the ground persist in allowing gang members to play for them.

In a letter sent to the Bermuda Football Association and the island’s clubs after a meeting this month, Martin Weekes, the acting deputy commissioner, promises a “zero tolerance” approach and warns that it is time for clubs and teams to stop allowing gang members to travel to away games.

It is understood that Boulevard Community Club and Paget Football Club have already received letters from the police, informing them that several of their players are no longer welcome at Police Field. The letters were sent out before the Friendship Trophy and First Division Shield games that took place on November 14.

Boulevard, who made a much publicised attempt to rid the club of gang members several years ago, are believed to have had four players who were deemed unacceptable; Paget, two.

“It has been the Bermuda Police Service’s position for some time that the dangers caused to the public and to the footballing community by the practice of teams fielding persons that are identified as being actively involved in gang and criminal activities outweigh any benefits that their skill on the field can bring to Bermuda football,” Mr Weekes wrote.

“It is time for teams and clubs, particularly, to recognise the liability issues surrounding the continued practice of travelling to ‘away’ games with gang members on their teams when violence, which could otherwise have been avoided, ensues during or after games.”

Incidents of gang violence surrounding football, at Somerset Cricket Club and Southampton Rangers Sports Club in particular, appear to have motivated the police to take a stand, with Mr Weekes writing that getting its own house in order was the police’s first priority.

“With a view to setting standards at our own club premises, the Bermuda Police Service wishes to inform you that, going forward, we will operate a ‘zero tolerance’ attitude to persons we have identified as persons involved in gang and criminal activity, utilising the Police Field,” Mr Weekes wrote in the letter addressed to David Sabir, the BFA general secretary.

“Officers will be in attendance at games played at Police Field going forward and will work with club officials to identify these persons and to inform them that they are not welcome to play at the Police Field. I wish to make it clear that the Bermuda Police Service is not targeting any club or team in particular and will apply this policy to all teams and indeed all sports currently played at Police Field.”

Mr Weekes finished by informing Mr Sabir and the clubs that spectator behaviour, primarily the smoking of cannabis at games, will also be clamped down upon, with police officers at matches to ensure the policy is enforced.

A failure by clubs to support the police in this will result in police rescinding “our permission for the BFA to schedule fixtures at Police Field”.

The BFA responded by releasing a statement: “The BFA supports any efforts to protect the game and the match-day environment.

“We look forward to ongoing dialogue with the Bermuda Police Service as it pertains to football, in particular, assistance with our Bermuda Antisocial Behaviour Policy.

“We acknowledge that our clubs will need assistance in dealing with the antisocial behavior, which manifest itself throughout various parts of Bermudian society.”

The police stance puts the onus on the BFA, which in the past has insisted that football does not have a gang problem.

Larry Mussenden, the former BFA president, reiterated this after Rickai Swan was shot dead last year by Shantoine Burrows in gang violence at Southampton Oval.

“We refute the suggestion that there is a significant or any gang problem in football,” Mr Mussenden, who is now the Director of Public Prosecutions, said in an interview with The Royal Gazette in October 2015.

In that interview, Mr Mussenden pointed to the tough stance the BFA took on antisocial behaviour, with players forced to submit to vetting by police, while clubs are mandated to “vet their players and remove any who have breached the policy by any conduct whatsoever in the wider community and courts”.

Mr Mussenden went on to say that the BFA would not hesitate to “ban anyone from playing football. Together, we will never let the criminal actions of a few miscreants spoil the beautiful game”.

For Mr Weekes’s letter in full, click on the PDF under “Related Media”