A large event like the World Cup creates a unique threat environment. So if your organisation is involved in any way, what does an actionable threat landscape assessment look like? Head of Advisory services Cvete Koneska explains the lessons for any major event.
Events like the FIFA World Cup are a fantastic way for organisations to get involved with some of the world’s largest gatherings, and reap commercial and reputational rewards.
But whether you’re sponsoring a team, sending a delegation to the event or operating locally, you need to assess the threats and risks very carefully. The threat environment at events of this scale can be complex and even if you’re very familiar with Qatar or engaged with the sporting sector, it can be significantly different to what you’re used to. This is not ‘business as usual’.
So what should your threat assessment include, in order to provide you with the relevant, actionable intelligence you need to proactively protect your people, assets and brand? And even if your organisation is not involved in the World Cup in November, what lessons can you learn for other upcoming large-scale events such as COP27 in Egypt, the World Economic Forum or even events which your own organisation delivers?
A unique threat ecosystem
The key is that a general assessment of the risks in Qatar or of involvement in the World Cup is not enough. You need a bespoke approach, focusing on the specific threats to your organisation under the specific conditions of the World Cup.
This is because the threat ecosystem at a major event is unique on three levels.
First, for example, regardless of the baseline threat and risk context in Qatar, it is going to be significantly altered by the World Cup. The publicity, the influx of visitors, participants and sponsors and new transport and event infrastructure change the local environment - and consequently change your risk and opportunity calculus. Similarly, for threat actors, Qatar becomes a more attractive target due to the World Cup’s symbolic importance and global profile.
Second, each major event has its own, unique set of risks.
Take the World Cup again. Given its sheer size and footprint, the risks may be different even to other sporting or football events.
For example, with matches taking place in multiple locations and venues and thousands of fans arriving from across the globe even typically low-risk locations are likely to see security threats escalate. Long-standing, or newly created, fan rivalries can escalate after matches, leading to violent incidents and property damage. Some violence may also be organised or politically motivated.
The media profile of the World Cup makes it an attractive platform for a huge variety of activists, who may target your business if you’re involved in activities they perceive as problematic. This can increase security risks for your people and local operations.
Then there are reputational risks. Given the allegations that migrant workers were exploited during the World Cup build, sponsoring or supporting the event - or even just staying at local hotels - can lead to reputational damage. So can supporting an event taking place in a country with a problematic record on LGBT rights, especially at a time when football is looking to eradicate racism and homophobia amongst players and fans.
Sponsors’ environmental footprints are likely to be closely scrutinised, too, as climate change climbs higher on government agendas and environmental activists’ voices grow louder. This will impact corporate reputations for a long time after the Cup has finished.
Finally, even within this particular context, your organisation’s own threat ecosystem is unique.
The hotels your delegation stays at, the routes they take, the matches they attend, the hostile actors they may encounter, the grievances hostile actors may hold against you, the reputational threats you are likely to face - all these and more are specific to your organisation.
Do you understand your threat landscape?
As a result, in order to be actionable and useful, an effective pre-event threat-assessment cannot only look at general risks. It must be event-specific and highly focused on the unique risks to your business.
A landscape threat assessment which does not refer back in every paragraph to your business; its mission statement and goals; your risk appetite; your specific threat profile, or the specific profile of relevant stakeholders, is too broad to be actionable. You will be left struggling with gaps in your security plan, and struggling to implement appropriate mitigation measures in good time.
The challenge is that preparing an actionable threat landscape assessment can be time- and resource-intensive given the other activities you must carry out in order to prepare for an event, particularly if you have a small team.
Dragonfly’s advisory service reduces this pressure on risk and security functions by conducting pre-event risk assessments on your behalf. This is a completely bespoke service, which gives you a thorough understanding of the risk and opportunity landscapes - as they apply specifically to your organisation.
The reports are highly analytical, offering in-depth analysis of the issues which most concern you.
They are anticipatory, looking at how risk trends might evolve as the event approaches, with a particular focus on the implications for your business. We would even advise on the long-term impacts and legacies of the World Cup (or whichever event you’re partnering with), as such events can leave a lasting mark on corporate reputations - as my colleague Michael Lubieszko, head of Protective Intelligence, explains here.
And not only do they outline the likelihood of scenarios you might expect at your event, but they articulate how we came to our conclusions so you can have full confidence in our assessments and forecasts.
Questions we typically answer include:
- What is your company’s risk profile at the event? We look at the role your company is fulfiling, your footprint on the ground and in the media and any associations with national or global causes, and consider the implications. What are your physical and reputational vulnerabilities?
- What is the evolving threat landscape? We look at the broader threats which the event entails, from terrorism and political violence to cyber threats and cyber crime, unrest, activism and geopolitical rivalries, and the intent and capabilities of specific threat actors. Then we consider how vulnerable you are to these factors.
- What geographical or sectoral sensitivities can mitigate or amplify threats to your company? For example, a construction company at the World Cup may attract negative attention because of the controversy over the abuse of migrant workers’ rights in Qatar, regardless of whether they were involved. We consider your sector vulnerabilities too.
These novel, timely, actionable insights will inform your risk mitigation, travel and communication plans, allowing you to proactively protect your people, assets and reputation.
And if required, we can also support you as you implement the security plan you develop based on our assessments, since the threat environment can change rapidly and unpredictably. Our team of specialists can provide advanced, dedicated coverage and assessments of possible disruption to events. Using a combination of human agency and world-class automation across the open, deep and dark web, we deliver timely, curated, actionable intelligence that enables you to take appropriate mitigation measures in good time. This allows you to manage risks around the event with full confidence.
How we help a sports association hold events safely
Dragonfly has vast experience advising clients on their risk and threat landscapes around large international events globally.
For example, we are currently working with an international sports association responsible for organising multiple events every year in different countries. We provide their senior leadership with regular reports assessing a set of bespoke risks for all their upcoming events. These cover everything from political risks to air pollution and broadcast risks.
Because we work together so closely, we have developed an in-depth understanding of their key concerns, which are different from sport to sport and from business to business.
Threats we’ve flagged include travel restrictions for athletes, the risk of national governments using an event for propaganda purposes, the impact of an influx of refugees on sports infrastructure and operations, and legacy risks (assessing how an event might impact the organisation long-term).
Our insights help the client make well-informed decisions about where to host their next events, and decide how to best mitigate the risks around each event.
Image: Football fans gather ahead of the match in Trafalgar Square on July 11, 2021 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)