Sapporo soccer hooligans face police-fired dragnet

by Rob Gilhooly

Just as previews of the movie “Spiderman” have started to appear in Japan, police in Hokkaido have come up with their own web-spouting device to combat hooliganism during this year’s soccer World Cup, to be cohosted by Japan and South Korea.

With England, Germany, Italy and Argentina all set to play in Sapporo in early June, local police have been testing a kind of gun that fires not bullets, rubber pellets or tear gas, but restraining nets that they believe will catch any troublemakers just like flies.

A more common method employed by Japan’s police to restrain disorderly thugs is via martial arts such as judo, in which they are highly trained.

Yet police officials in Hokkaido said they fear bottle-wielding hooligans from the likes of Britain and Germany will not be so easy to apprehend using a simple tug of the jacket and a flip over the shoulder.

“Japanese youths are bigger these days, but still nothing compared with Europeans,” said Masatsugu Oi of the specially formed World Cup security division of the Sapporo headquarters of the Hokkaido Prefectural Police.

“Of course, martial arts form an important part of our training, but if you take the size and power factor into consideration, (the restraining nets) could be more effective,” he added.

A prototype of the net gun, developed in Japan, has already been tested during police training, Oi said.

At a glance, it looks pretty much like a regular gun, he explained. When fired, however, it emits a net measuring 25 sq. meters that will hopefully ensnare marauding fans.

“It was immediately apparent that it could be a useful weapon to combat any kind of rioting,” Oi said, adding that he believed it to be the first time any such device has been developed in Japan.

Oi expressed relief that Germany’s game against Saudi Arabia on June 1 and England’s against Argentina on June 7 were far enough apart to prevent any real possibility of clashes between opposing fans in Sapporo.

Yet, Italy’s first game at the Sapporo Dome on June 3 is a little close for comfort, he confessed.

“We’re a little concerned that fans (of opposing teams) will be hanging around in the city at the same time.”

The England vs. Argentina game has also been labeled by officials as a high-risk game.

“We are well aware of what (fans from both nations) are capable of. We consider the development of strategies such as the nets a top priority.”