FIFA, World Cup organizers tightlipped on growing security issues at 5 stadiums

By Mike Corder, AP
Wednesday, June 16, 2010

FIFA, WCup organizers clam up on stadium security

JOHANNESBURG — FIFA and South Africa’s World Cup organizers went on the defensive Wednesday about security issues at five World Cup stadiums caused by a stewards’ strike over low pay.

The spokesmen for FIFA and the organizing committee declined to address the problems at their daily news briefing, referring all questions to police.

“We have nothing further to say about the security issue, please call the police,” South Africa organizers spokesman Rich Mkhondo said. “They are able to answer all security-related matters. All. Not me.”

Police have taken responsibility for both Johannesburg stadiums, and the venues in Cape Town, Durban and Port Elizabeth, since stewards began protests Sunday night. Police used tear gas and fired rubber bullets to disperse stewards who were angry about their wages and refused to leave Durban’s Moses Mabhida Stadium.

In Durban on Wednesday, stewards joined community activists in a peaceful protest of about 800 people outside City Hall to protest the World Cup, which they say has directed public funds away from providing housing and jobs.

Protesters held placards that said “Apartheid Still Exists” and “World Cup for All! People Before Profit.”

The dispute spread to Johannesburg on Tuesday. South African police deployed 1,000 officers to screen more than 54,000 fans arriving for Brazil’s 2-1 victory over North Korea at Ellis Park after employees from security contractor Stallion walked out hours before the evening kickoff.

“We are confident that we will not compromise the safety of the tournament or our day-to-day normal policing,” National Commissioner Gen. Bheki Cele said.

The South African Transport and Allied Workers Union, which represents many security workers, said it had asked the Labor Department to investigate whether labor laws were broken during the recruitment of the security stewards.

“FIFA and the local organizing committee are fully responsible for the fiasco that is unfolding,” the union said in a statement. “These bodies have created a situation which is undermining our national pride, and they should be made liable.”

According to the union, most of the security workers hired for the World Cup did not have written contracts, were paid less than promised, received inadequate training and were forced to work in substandard conditions.

Mkhondo did not say which agency or security firm would provide security at the 84,000-capacity Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg when Argentina plays South Korea in an afternoon match on Thursday.

“I would love to talk about this issue, but the police will be able to talk about this issue,” he said.

Police spokeswoman Major Gen. Leko Mbatha told The Associated Press that officers would be on duty at Soccer City as part of a “temporary arrangement” with the organizing committee.

She said officers at Ellis Park did “an excellent job. We’re very much confident they will continue to do so.”

Mkhondo also declined to address how the organizing committee, which is responsible for all national and venue security at the World Cup, would pay for using additional police.

Asked whether organizers were preparing to fire Stallion, which was contracted to provide security at the five stadiums now under police control, Mkhondo said he had “no comment about this issue.”

FIFA spokesman Nicolas Maingot said he was not aware if the organization would be required to help fund the policing bill.

FIFA was criticized Wednesday by activists who said football’s governing body had too much influence in South Africa.

“Today’s march is to give a voice to people who have been left out of the World Cup and to protect people who are being exploited by companies involved in the World Cup,” said Lubna Nadvi, from the Durban Social Forum.

Cyril Xaba, a special adviser to the provincial prime minister in KwaZulu-Natal, said the government could not intervene in the labor dispute, which could be settled by a state-funded arbitration committee.

“People have benefited from the World Cup,” Xaba said. “Roads are built, stadiums were built and that brought jobs. There was also more work in the hospitality industry and more taxes raised by the government — so everyone benefits from this, even when it’s not visible straight away.

“Of course, we are not naive and we realize that not everyone can benefit directly,” he said. “I sympathize with them.”

Part of Durban’s beachfront was cleared for fan zones, and street traders and fishermen have been excluded from the areas.

The protesters sang, prayed, danced and chanted slogans as they marched to the coastal city’s town hall. Police, many of them carrying shotguns, kept watch but did not intervene.

As the protesters gathered in the shade of trees in a dusty downtown park, impoverished residents collected water in empty bottles from a broken tap.

About three kilometers (two miles) away, fans gathered near a giant temporary stage on the beach and listened to rap music at a fan zone before a Group H match between Spain and Switzerland.

Mike Corder and Associated Press writer Derek Gatopoulos reported from Durban, South Africa.

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