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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Sean Ingle

Barry Hearn wants protesters who disrupt sporting events to face jail time

The World Snooker Tour president, Barry Hearn, has called for activists who disrupt sporting events to be jailed to prevent copycat attacks after incidents at the Grand National and World Snooker Championship.

Hearn’s comments came as he forecast further incidents at Wimbledon and the Open unless Britain became less of a “soft touch as a nation”. He told TalkSport: “Sport’s an easy target. Aintree we saw on Saturday. How long before the Open or Wimbledon or whatever? And it is a concern because, whenever someone intrudes on the field of play, wherever it is, your first thought is not that this could be a protest, but it could be something quite harmful.

“We’re such a soft touch as a nation – smack their wrists, give them a small fine, maybe a bit of community hours, maybe a month in prison. It’s a ludicrous situation but what do you do about it? The problem is there’s not enough deterrent out there for these people to do anything but get away with it.”

Hearn’s intervention came a day after a Just Stop Oil activist threw a packet of orange powder over a snooker table at the Crucible on Monday, forcing the first-round match between Robert Milkins and Joe Perry to be suspended for 24 hours. And last Saturday, 118 activists from Animal Rising were detained after causing the Grand National to be delayed by 14 minutes.

Hearn believes that without tougher action nothing will change. “It might cost them a few hours of their freedom. But there’s no serious deterrent and, for that reason alone, expect more of these, not less.

“It therefore puts the onus on promoters like us to say right well, we’re going to have to double up our security, treble up our security, maybe we have to do more body searches … but eventually it puts them off going. Of course all these costs have to be paid for. Custodial sentences is my way. I’m a zero-tolerance type of guy.”

Hearn’s warning came as London Marathon insiders confirmed they were assessing their security plans for the race on Sunday following recent incidents.

But organisers remain confident the race will pass without incident after the climate group Extinction Rebellion, which is holding “The Big One” festival this weekend, promised not to target the event.

“We’re aware of the Extinction Rebellion protest that is scheduled to take place in Parliament Square from Friday 21 April through to Monday 24 April and have been in contact with them for some months,” Hugh Brasher, the event director for the London Marathon, said.

“The Extinction Rebellion organisers have assured us that they do not wish to disrupt the London Marathon. As Parliament Square and the immediate surrounding area will be very busy, we advise spectators to watch the London Marathon from other locations and avoid the Parliament Square area on the day.”

Organisers acknowledge the possibility that other groups, such as Just Stop Oil, may still try to stop the race, given they have previously attempted to tie themselves to goalposts during Premier League matches, and invaded the track during the Formula One British Grand Prix at Silverstone last year.

“As always, we are working closely with the Metropolitan police and other stakeholders on the safety and security of the event,” Brasher said.

Meanwhile, the World Snooker Tour said extra security measures will be in place for the rest of the world championship, including having guards closer to the floor of play. Only very small bags will be allowed in and will be “vigorously searched”, it said.

The All England Club has hinted it will step up security for Wimbledon this year in the wake of the recent protests. “The safety and security of all our visitors is paramount,” a spokesperson said. “Throughout the year we work closely with the Metropolitan police and other relevant organisations to ensure that the Championships is as safe and secure as possible and that our plans and measures are commensurate with the threat level and prevailing risks.”

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