Warsaw backtracks on Lech Poznan ban
WARSAW - Agence France-Presse
Sergei Krivets (L) and Luis Henriquez from Lech Poznan fight for ball with Adam Johnson (C). AFP PhotoPolish authorities on Friday backtracked on a security-driven decision to bar fans of Lech Poznan from a match against league leaders Legia Warsaw, but pledged to crack down if there was trouble.
"Today, after a discussion with the capital's police chief, I have taken the decision to waive my precision ruling," Warsaw's regional governor Jacek Kozlowski told reporters.
He acted after both teams' supporters' clubs issued statements saying they would do their utmost to ensure there was no trouble.
"These statements by the fan clubs are something new, I believe in their good faith, and it would be wrong not to give them a chance," he said.
But he sounded a warning: "We welcome peaceful fans. There's no place for crime and law-breaking among football supporters. If anything happens, the reaction will be tough." As Euro 2012 co-host Poland strives to defeat hooligans - estimated by police at up to 5,000 in this nation of 38.5 million - the authorities have used stadium bans as a weapon.
But ordinary supporters protest that that amounts to collective punishment.
Earlier this week, Kozlowski ordered Lech fans to be kept out of Legia's ground on Saturday, acting on the advice of the police who cited fears of public disorder at the stadium.
They reportedly also raised concerns that the game between Lech and Legia - whose fans have a history of bad blood - coincided with a right-wing, anti-government rally in the capital.
But Lech fans warned they would come to Warsaw anyway and could head to the rally, fuelling fears of a repeat of the trouble on Polish independence day last November 11, when football hooligans and the far-right joined forces.
Lech's club authorities also blasted the decision, complaining that the their fans' absence could hurt the team's morale in the crunch game.
With four fixtures left this season, Lech are fifth in Poland's 16-club first division, two slots short of a European competition berth.
Legia, meanwhile, have a three-point lead on second-placed Slask Wroclaw.
The authorities, long faulted for doing too little to tackle hooliganism, were stung into action after fan violence at last May's Polish Cup final between Lech and Legia.
Away fans of all Polish clubs were banned from the remaining matches of the 2010-2011 season, and ad hoc bans for individual games have been imposed this term.