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World Cup stampede renews concern over South Africa's preparedness

Sunday's World Cup stampede during a friendly between Nigeria and North Korea injured more than a dozen people, but officials say this will not be a problem at any of the tournament's official matches.

By Scott BaldaufStaff writer / June 7, 2010

Johannesburg, South Africa

Sunday's stampede at a friendly World Cup warm-up match between North Korea and Nigeria has renewed questions about whether South Africa is adequately prepared to provide security.

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The stampede occurred in the township of Tembisa -– mid-way between Johannesburg and Pretoria, the nation’s capital. The private company that organized the event handed out 10,000 free tickets, but thousands who didn't receive a free ticket still pushed to get inside the stadium. At least 14 people were injured, including a police officer.

World Cup organizers, the International Federation of Football Associations (FIFA), offered condolences to those injured but quickly distanced themselves from the friendly, which was organized by the two participating teams and occurred at a stadium that will not be used in the World Cup, which begins on Friday.

“FIFA and the OC [Organizing Committee] would like to first wish a prompt recovery to those who have been affected by these incidents,” FIFA said in a statement. “In addition, FIFA and the OC would like to reiterate that this friendly match has no relation whatsoever with the operational organization of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, for which we remain fully confident.”

Security: Always a big worry

From the very moment in 2004 when South Africa was announced as the host of the 2010 World Cup, security became the biggest question about South Africa’s fitness to be a host.

The question is a natural one. South Africa has one of the highest violent crime rates in the world, with newspapers daily printing the lurid details of the latest shootout between police and carjackers, police and cash-in-transit heists, and, in one memorable incident, between police and police.

Yet security analysts say that South Africa’s government has prepared well for the World Cup and predict that official games run by FIFA are likely to come off without a hitch.

“The government has been very, very serious about security and very committed to make the World Cup as safe as possible,” says Johan Burger at the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria (or Tshwane, as the nation’s capital is now known).

Beefed-up police force

The South Africa Police Service (SAPS) has built up its personnel ahead of the World Cup from 120,000 in 2001 to 193,000, and the ratio of police officers to citizens is at 2.8 officers for every 1,000, above the international norm of 2 for every 1,000.

In addition, the SAPS has successfully secured other high-level sports tournament in recent years, starting with the cricket World Cup in 2003, which attracted 60,000 visitors and lasted for six weeks.

It also hosted the Confederations Cup soccer tournament last year, the Indian Premier League cricket tournament, and the British Lions rugby tour of South Africa.