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Sports

Safety doubts and reassurances continue over World Cup in South Africa

Never before has security been such a hotly debated topic at a World Cup, with crime topping the list of concerns. But experts say the risks are reasonable, if people use common sense.

South African police drill for the World Cup

South African police are already rehearsing for the big show

Like all the nations competing in South Africa, the German national team will have its own security unit at this summer's event. But Germany coach Joachim Loew has denied rumors that players and staff would be required to wear heavy armor.

"There won't be any bulletproof vests because we don't need them," Loew said in an interview last December.

When the rumor first began to make the rounds, South Africans joked that it would be difficult to take penalties carrying all that extra weight. And tourism managers pointed out that South Africa had no shortage of experience when it comes to staging spectacles.

"In recent years we've played host to 146 events," Theresa Bay-Mueller, a country manager for South Africa Tourism, says. "And nothing bad happened."

The 2009 Confederations Cup was one of those events, and it came off without a hitch. The Indian Premier Cricket League even moved some of its matches to South Africa due to terrorism concerns.

Yet while terrorism may not be a pressing issue in South Africa, crime is.

Danger in the townships

Residents protesting lack of services in an informal settlement east of Johannesburg look on as police keep watch,

Tourists should avoid the townships

South Africa is burdened by its reputation of being the murder capital of the world - according to one oft-cited statistic, there are 50 homicides per day in the country.

"When you read the monthly statistics, you get the feeling that crime is everywhere and that it's dangerous place to go," says Horst R. Schmidt, a German advisor to the World Cup organizers.

But Schmidt hastens to point out that the numbers can be deceiving. That's a sentiment seconded by Wolfgang Jakob, the honorary ambassador of the northern German city of Hamburg to South Africa.

"You have to see things in perspective," says Jakob, who has resided in South Africa for 10 years. "We live in a country that is part First and part Third World. It's directly on the fault-line between rich and poor, so of course there's more crime."

According to the South African Police Services, the majority of crimes take place in the poor townships outside the centers of cities. And Helmut Spahn, who's in charge of security for Germany football association, the DFB, says foreigners seldom get caught up in violence.

"It seems to be the case that the serious crimes are committed among 'acquaintances,'" Spahn says. "Rarely are tourists the targets of attacks."

Playing by the rules

Township kids playing soccer

South Africans love the beautiful game

The best guarantee of safety, the experts agree, is common sense.

Rainer Dinkelacker has lived in Johannesburg for many years and works as the goalkeeping coach for the professional club, the Kaizer Chiefs. He says tourists shouldn't be afraid.

"I constantly here people saying that when you get out at the airport, you'll be shot," Dinckelacker said. "That's total nonsense, but tourists should abide by rules."

Those rules include not doing things that one wouldn't do in other big cities.

"It's the same as in Germany, New York, Shanghai or anywhere else in the world," Spahn says. "If I go walking around at four in the morning in an unfamiliar neighbourhood, I risk getting robbed."

Tourist mecca

Police at a soccer fan mile

Police promise fans will be protected

South Africa attracts millions of foreign tourists per year, and around 300,000 visitors are expected specifically for the World Cup.

Organizers say special measures will be implemented to handle that extra responsibility.

"We will secure the routes between airports and hotels, team quarters and stadiums, and tourist attractions and popular nightspots," head police spokesman Vishnu Naidoo has promised.

National team security forces will also cooperate with South African police.

"I have no worries that the sites of this World Cup will be absolutely secure," Schmidt says. "People can travel around without fear."

And South African government spokesperson Themba James Maseko promises that World Cup visitors won't regret the trip.

"All the players and fans who come to South Africa will feel free," Maseko said. "Every year we welcome more than 10 million tourists, and they all want to come back because they feel the warmth of people here and feel safe."

Author: Arnulf Boettcher (jc)
Editor: Rob Mudge

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