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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.

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In none of these tournaments, Mr. Burger says, were there any serious security incidents involving teams or fans.

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Yet the World Cup is a whole other ball game, Mr. Burger admits, with an estimated 325,000 foreign tourists expected to attend 64 games spanning a month across the entire country. The challenges of protecting all those people are numerous.

“With an event this size, it just increases the chances for terrorist acts, because it is such an attractive target,” says Burger.

Better cooperation against terrorism

South Africa itself does not seem to be a target, but the presence of such teams as the United States, England, the Netherlands, and other countries that have participated in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan could attract militants. South Africa has improved information sharing between its intelligence agencies and police and the country has stepped up its cooperation with foreign intelligence agencies.

The National Joint Operational Intelligence Structure of the SAPS recently issued a firm denial to stories printed in the South African newspaper, the Times, which claimed that extremist cells had training camps in the mountainous neighboring country of Swaziland and in South Africa's Free State Province.

“Although the NATJOINTS is not prepared to discuss intelligence matters for obvious reasons, we can categorically deny the existence of a ‘watch-list of 40 terror suspects’ or the arrest of any person directly targeting the World Cup,” the SAPS said in a statement. “We can also dispute the existence of ‘operational militant training camps in several provinces in South Africa.’”

But Burger says that South Africa’s government does take terrorist threats to the World Cup seriously. “South Africa is aware of the fact that especially matches involving the US and Britain might possibly have a higher risk than other matches, and this has been taken into account to try to reduce the risks and the opportunities for extremists,” says Burger.

Common crime the top concern

In some ways, the greater challenge in these World Cup matches will be to protect visitors from the everyday crimes that seem to be a fixture in South African life.

“Criminals also see the World Cup as a huge opportunity, and they will be out in force,” says Burger. “But police have provided for that, and while it is impossible to protect each and everybody, their increased numbers will have a positive effect on security.”

The best solution for protection against crime – which can include armed robbery, home invasions, or carjacking – is to “respect the general rules and tips given to them when they arrive in South Africa,” says Burger.

The SAPS will be giving security tips to visitors, both at airports but also at hotels and guesthouses. Tourists can also ask the advice of locals on where to go, when to travel, and most importantly, to travel in large groups.

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