BUDAPEST (Reuters) - The thousands of fans gathered below the sculpture of a huge eagle, the symbol of 28-times Hungarian champions Ferencvaros, shouted “down with the scanner”.
Draped in the club’s trademark green-and-white shirts and scarves, the fans had met on a sunny autumn afternoon outside the club’s stadium to demonstrate against the introduction of a bimoetric identification system used for entry to home matches.
Ferencvaros, known as ‘Fradi’, were not playing at home that day. Their fans, such was their anger, had chosen to boycott an away match against arch-rivals Ujpest.
From this season palm vein scanners have been introduced to secure access to the brand new $61 million Fradi stadium. A Hungarian invention, the scanner identifies a fan based on five million palm vein data points.
Other clubs could now follow in introducing such technology, Peter Gyorgydeak, Managing Director of the Hungarian developer Biosec Kft, told Reuters.
Biometric identification systems are already in use in the soccer world. But it takes five seconds for the face recognition system used in the stadium of Dutch club ADO Den Haag to identify someone, which may be too long, Gyorgydeak said.
“Here you hold your palm there and you are identified in a second,” Gyorgydeak said.
The system does not record any pictures. It only holds a multiple encrypted hashcode of the vein structure of two palms of each fan and an identification number, separately stored from other personal data to prevent any misuse.
Still, the scanner was the last straw for the hard core of Fradi fans who had been upset anyway by the introduction of club cards, a rise in ticket prices and ever stricter regulations of the behaviour of soccer fans in and around the stadium.
“What is this madness? Will they implant a chip into us the next time?” said Balazs Magyar, a spokesman of the Fans With No Personal Right Movement, which organised the anti-scanner rally.
“New stadium, new fans? This will not work,” he added.
Ferencvaros have tried to shed a reputation for hooliganism and CEO Pal Orosz said such technology was needed to help prevent trouble in the stadium.
“We like it or not, the world goes into this direction,” he said. “We have no choice, given that the UEFA has very strict requirements... Whoever ignores those will be severely fined.”
Fan rights activist Magyar disagreed, saying a boycott of matches by thousands would cause a big loss in ticket revenues, adding that in some European countries football associations were loosening rules rather than tightening them, fearing a decline in match attendance.
“We will stay off matches until Hungarian football leaders seriously change their thinking,” he said. “The scanner is only a symbol of that, even though a very important symbol.”
Szebasztian Huber, editor of the Fradi fan website ulloi129.hu said many fans also fear that technological developments would help clubs pass Hungarian Football Association fines — which they regard as too strict — on to them.
Stricter stadium rules also puzzle fans because the number of violent incidents in and around Hungarian stadiums is much lower than 10 or 20 years ago, he added.
“The culture of soccer fans is different everywhere, in some countries (vein scanners) would be tolerated, while elsewhere fans could be upset,” Huber said. “Launching the system highlighting its comfort functions could increase tolerance.”
Laszlo Szollosy, a 66-year old pensioner arriving for a Ferencvaros home match from the country town Eger, admitted that the system is quite fast, saying that he had no problem with it as he never committed any wrongdoing.
“But fines are flying for small things today; you cannot say anything and that irritates me more than the scanner. In the past stadiums were freedom of speech sanctuaries,” he added.
The scanners may spread despite the bad feelings.
Gyorgydeak said Biosec have had enquiries from Western Europe, Russia and the United States, and was in talks with possible buyers in the sports and financial sectors.
The second such system will be installed in an amusement park as a way of cash-free payments. He said the original idea came years ago when a Florida beach published a tender for a value deposit system that cannot use physical objects as keys.
The Hungarians missed the tender but developed the system.
Zoltan Zilai, 56, sitting in his wheelchair at the stadium where he has been selling snacks since 1986, said he hoped that was not the direction the world was going.
“Not good for business, less people come... Is a Fradi fan an underdog in this world who even has to get his veins scanned?”
Reporting by Sandor Peto; editing by Justin Palmer