2010 World Cup: a Discussion about Crime

Police in Cape Town stand by during a strike by municipal workers in 2009. (Photo: Miriam Mannak)

Some people claim that FIFA made a mistake by awarding South Africa the bid to host the 2010 World Cup, predominantly because of the country's crime problems. A football correspondent for the Guardian, for instance, wrote that the bid should have gone to Egypt—one of the other three candidates to host the world's biggest soccer event.

South Africa has one of the highest crime levels in the world, but, like The Netherlands is more than coffee shops and prostitutes and Nigeria is more than corruption and email scams, South Africa is more than crime. The country has much to offer—something FIFA acknowledged by giving South Africa the go ahead.

The assumption that Egypt is safe and thus a better location for the 2010 world cup is misguided. While day-to-day crime in Egypt is indeed lower compared to South Africa, its safety and security record is far from flawless. Over the past years, the country has experienced a vast number of terror attacks against tourists and locals, as well as kidnappings of foreign nationals.

Terror attacks in Egypt

"We advise you to exercise a high degree of caution in Egypt because of the high threat of terrorist attack. We continue to receive reports that terrorists are planning attacks against a range of targets, including places frequented by foreigners," the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade warns on their website. "Pay close attention to your personal security at all times and monitor the media for information about possible new safety and security risks. Terrorist attacks could occur at any time, anywhere in Egypt, including in tourist areas."

The website of the U.S. State Department features similar warnings: "Egypt suffered a series of deadly terrorist attacks in or near tourist sites in 2005 and 2006—often coinciding with major local holidays. Evidence of instability in the Sinai has been reflected in random attacks on vehicles transiting the interior. U.S. citizens who plan to visit the Sinai in spite of the persistent threat of terrorist attacks should exercise great caution."

The warnings are not without reason. Last February four people, including two tourists, were killed and 20 others injured after a bomb exploded in the center of Cairo. Three months later, a homemade bomb exploded in Cairo. No one got hurt, but many people were left shaken. This year, on January 10, seven people were killed in a drive-by shooting outside a church in Nag Hammadi, a town in Egypt's Qena province.

A bit further back, in October 2004, 34 people—mainly Israeli tourists—were killed and over 100 wounded during attacks on various resorts in the Red Sea villages of Taba and Ras Shitan. In April 2005, a bomb packed with nails killed two tourists and wounded 18 others. Three weeks later, two women opened fire on a bus in Cairo, wounding two passengers. 2005 saw more attacks in April and July. In April 2006, 23 people were killed and 80 wounded during three bomb explosions in the Egyptian resort city of Dahab. In September 2008, gunmen took 11 Western tourists and eight locals hostage for a week.

2010 World Cup safety precautions

The South African government and police are very much aware of the country's high level of crime and the fact that large events like the World Cup drive up criminal activity. They also know that the world will be scrutinizing South Africa with regard to crime during the event, and that every incident will end up on the front page.

To protect both visitors and locals, 50,000 extra cops are being trained, and all 10 of the World Cup stadiums will boast a police station and various police holding cells to lock up criminals and misbehaving tourists. Long distance trains will be fitted with holding cells and a mobile police station. In addition, 54 special 2010 World Cup courts are being established to deal with crime effectively. The South African police service will also work closely with Interpol, police services and private security companies from various European countries, the anti-terrorist unit, and the army.

South Africa no rookie

People forget that South Africa has many years of experience organizing large, international sporting events and dealing with the safety and security issues that come with them. Last year, the Rainbow Nation hosted the 2009 ICC Champions Trophy, the FIFA Confederations Cup and the 2009 Indian Premier League. No incidents of visitors being attacked during those events have been reported. Other major past events include the 2007 World Twenty20 Championships, the A1 Grand Prix (since 2006), Fina Swimming World Cup (since 2003), the Red Bull Big Wave Africa (since 1998), various six-star rated surfing events, the 2006 Paralympics Swimming World Champs, the Women's World Cup of Golf (2005-2008), the 2003 Cricket World Cup, the 1998 World Cup of Athletics, the 1996 World Cup of Golf, the 1996 African Cup of Nations, and the 1995 Rugby World Cup.

This is not to say that South Africa can guarantee that the World Cup will play out without incident. Large crowds of people, regardless of the event's geographical location, attract opportunists and criminals. No FIFA World Cup in history has been completely crime free. To expect that from South Africa is grossly unfair.

Miriam Mannak's World Cup blog is http://twenty10soccerworldcup.wordpress.com.

View the Worldpress Desk’s profile for Miriam Mannak.