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Germany

German Watchdog Warns World Cup Stadiums Unsafe

A German consumer protection group has pinpointed "serious deficiencies" in safety at four of the 12 stadiums to be used during the soccer World Cup finals in June. German soccer officials have rejected the accusations.

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Berlin's recently renovated Olympic Stadium was found to have "security deficiencies"

Stiftung Warentest, an independent consumer protection watchdog respected throughout Germany for its rating of consumer products and services, released a study showing that World Cup stadium venues were ill-equipped to cope with disaster.

Stiftung Warentest Sicherheit der WM Stadien

Journalist Falk Murke, right, and Jürgen Ambrecht of consumer magazine "Stiftung Warentest"

According to the authors of the study, which examined the stadiums last September and October, two-thirds of the venues to be used during this summer's World Cup failed to comply with security guidelines established by the international soccer body FIFA.

Lessons never learned

Although safety in general has improved since the 1980s when multiple fatalities at the Heysel, Bradford and Hillsborough soccer stadiums in England hit the headlines, deficiencies still persist, the study said. What's more, it added, many of the lessons stadium builders should have drawn from past disasters seem to have been ignored.

A close look at evacuation routes found, for example, that many of the stadiums had no plan to allow fans to enter the pitch in case of a mass panic. Three of the four World Cup stadiums marked as having "serious deficiencies"– Gelsenkirchen, Leipzig and Berlin – were not prepared for a mass evacuation.

Fußballstadion Leipzig

The new multi-million euro stadium in Leipzig doesn't meet security requirements, the report says

Crowd panic, set off by a bomb warning or a rowdy brawl, could have fatal consequences, Stiftung Warentest concluded. The fourth, Fritz Walter in the city of Kaserslautern, was reported to have serious faults in terms of fire protection.

"The results were sobering. Many of the conclusions drawn 20 years ago have either been forgotten or partly ignored," Holger Brackmann, department chief at the consumer watchdog, said at a news conference.

Besides the four described with "serious deficiencies," the consumer group sighted shortcomings in four other stadiums, including Munich's dazzling new arena that will host the opening match on June 9. An additional four venues were rated as having "clear failings."

Unwanted criticism?

The Stiftung Warentest study, some aspects of which were leaked in advance, has sparked an angry reaction from the president of the World Cup's organizing committee, Franz Beckenbauer (photo).

Franz Beckenbauer, Fußball-Weltmeisterschaft 2006

Franz Beckenbauer

"Stiftung Warentest may know about face lotions, olive oils and vacuums. That's what they should stick with," he told the mass-circulation daily Bild.

"I'm really sick and tired of the army of know-it-alls trying to lift their profile at the expense of the World Cup," Beckenbauer said.

According to Peter Peters, manager of Gelsenkirchen-based Schalke 04, the magazine was only interested in a circulation boost with its explosive report.

"Stiftung Warentest is making itself look ridiculous with their results," he said.

For its part, the consumer protection group defended its article, saying it had given organizers five months to improve matters. It is also not the first time the group has tested stadium safety.

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