Counter intelligence, food safety, layered security: what it takes to win a World Cup

It’s really kind of sad it has come to this, but the All Blacks are no longer naive.

The modern term for it is “risk management” – the rest of us would probably just call it security.

However you want to describe it, protecting sports teams at major events is big business. And when you are the biggest brand in your sport, it’s even more important.

Like most nations at the World Cup, the All Blacks don’t like to talk openly about security measures but they have never been more extensive.

Terrorism is at least one new phenomenon, but there is more than the scourge of modern-day travel to deal with nowadays.

If there’s a lightning rod for Kiwis on how it can all go horribly wrong, her name is Suzie.

New Zealanders of a certain age will remember how the All Blacks’ 1995 World Cup dream ended in tears in South Africa amid allegations of deliberate food poisoning at the team’s hotel by a mysterious waitress named “Suzie” on the eve of the final against the Springboks.

It was a master stroke.  Give the whole team food poisoning before the final.   That’s just one way to do it of course, and the All Black management are now vigilant against that and other threats.  

“We have a full-time nutritionist and she doesn’t just design menus, she looks at kitchen hygiene too [but] contingencies can only go so far,” AllBlacks manager Darren Shand says. “I think it’s best summed up by a ‘careful, not paranoid’ approach.”

He said “outside the environment most of these guys are aware of the risks in the public domain with drinks and things like that”.

Darry also prepares the sports drinks for training and match-day, with special precautions around the storage and handling of supplements, for example protein powder, due to the potential for contamination and a failed drugs test.

“Supplements and products are batch tested,” Shand says. “If we need 20 tubs of protein powder, we’ll send one away to get tested so we know that batch is safe. We can’t risk it. Certainly, with the number of cases that have arisen with contaminated products, we have limited the amount of sports supplements we use.”

The ultimate outcome of this in the future is that a team will travel with container loads of pre-packed food, have it’s own mobile kitchen, and only have staff that have been through rigorous security checks.

Insane?  Of course it is.  But it is the inevitable outcome of this sports “arms” race.

Shortly after checking into their luxury London hotel for the opening week of the tournament, they discovered a security fence erected around their training pitch still allowed guests in the hotel restaurant to view their every move.

That led to a four-metre fence being erected behind the smaller one. And the security guards outside the fence are even twitchy about that, telling New Zealand journalists not to take photos of it.

But to ensure there were no prying eyes, New Zealand Rugby booked out all bedrooms facing the training pitch so guests or, potentially, spies, couldn’t see what the men in black were getting up to.

The Wallabies have already had a potential brush with espionage after security guards were forced to chase off a man hiding with a long-lens camera next to their training ground.

And it will get harder to do, as they’ll need “air defence” against drone cameras now.   What better way to film the training sessions?

 

– Patrick McKendry, A newspaper


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