(by Geoff Hill, WashingtonTimes.com) Special to the Washington Times, JOHANNESBURG — Saturday’s World Cup soccer match between the United States and England will see some of the tightest security in the history of the sport.
Up to 35,000 of South Africa’s 190,000 police officers have been placed on standby for the month-long competition, which features teams from 32 countries – some 500 players, coaches and reserves – and at least 370,000 foreign visitors.
While South African police minister, Nathi Mthethwa, has said there is “no terror threat” to the event, Saturday will see helicopters, water cannons, bomb-sniffing dogs and military vehicles out in force, including $90 million-worth of new equipment imported especially for the games.
Mr. Mthethwa said that “together with the security forces of U.S., U.K. and others, we have prepared ourselves for any eventuality.”
Sources close to the International Federation of Football Associations (FIFA), which conducts the global competition every four years, confirmed that security has been a key concern in preparing for the games.
This was reflected in a recent U.S. State Department travel alert saying that, while no “specific, credible threat of attack” has been identified, there is a “heightened risk that extremist groups will conduct terrorist acts within South Africa in the near future.”
In August 1998, U.S. embassies were bombed in Kenya and Tanzania, killing 230 people and wounding more than 4,000 in nearby streets and buildings. It was these attacks that first brought the Taliban, al Qaeda and terrorist leader Osama bin Laden to the world’s attention.
Saturday’s game will see the Royal Bafokeng Stadium at Rustenburg, 105 miles northwest of Johannesburg, packed with 42,000 spectators, including British and U.S. fans, plus U.S. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.
U.S. Ambassador to South Africa Donald Gips, who will join Mr. Biden at the game, told The Washington Times that the U.S. government, working with South African authorities, has done all in its power to anticipate the actions of those who may have “bad intentions.”
“We have known the date and venue for months and have put a lot of work into this,” he said.
“Any major international event of this nature will attract the attention of people with bad intentions, but we believe that preparations are in place to deal with possible threats,” Mr. Gips said.
“Security planning for this and other games is at a very high level, and the South African authorities have done their best to make sure that U.S. fans and players can enjoy a safe environment.”
But in a country with one of the world’s highest murder rates, Mr. Gips also cautioned visitors to take care of themselves.
“We estimate that somewhere between 25,000 and 40,000 Americans will be here for the event. South Africa does have an ongoing battle with crime, which we have noted in our travel alert,” he said.
“But, I believe that our visitors, if they act in a responsible manner, will go home with wonderful memories of a great country and some of the most hospitable people you could wish to meet,” Mr. Gips said.
In Johannesburg and other major cities, many surburban homes are behind high concrete walls topped with razor wire or electric fences that carry a charge of up to 60,000 volts.
As players went through their final training this week, U.S. team captain Carlos Bocanegra said his players were only focused on the tournament.
“Obviously, the game against England has drawn a lot of excitement and interest from fans and media in the United States and around the world, and we think it’s a fantastic way to start,” he said.
“At the same time, we are aware that we have to face two other difficult opponents in Slovenia and Algeria.”
Mr. Gips said the presence of a U.S. team in the competition would go a long way to raising the status of soccer in America.
“We are all very excited to see the United States compete at this level, and being in the World Cup has, I think, changed the global perception of America as a soccer-playing country,” he said.
Copyright 2010 The Washington Times, LLC. Reprinted with permission of the Washington Times. For educational purposes only. This reprint does not constitute or imply any endorsement or sponsorship of any product, service, company or organization. Visit the website at washingtontimes.com.
1. How many of South Africa’s 190,000 police officers have been placed on standby for the month-long World Cup games in South Africa?
2. How many foreign visitors will be attending the month-long World Cup games in South Africa?
3. What precautions are the South African police force taking to ensure the safety of the fans, players, etc. during the World Cup games? (see para. 3-4)
4. What travel alert did the U.S. State Department issue for South Africa?
5. U.S. Ambassador to South Africa Donald Gips said: “Security planning for [Saturday’s U.S. vs. England] and other games is at a very high level, and the South African authorities have done their best to make sure that U.S. fans and players can enjoy a safe environment.” What recommendation did Mr. Gips make for American fans to stay safe?
6. Do you plan to watch the U.S. game against England this Saturday? Why or why not?
NOTE: Daily news postings have ended for the summer and will resume on August 23rd. Have a great summer!
For complete information on the World Cup, go to the official website of FIFA, the the world governing body of football (soccer) at FIFA.com.
For the World Cup schedule, go to fifa.com/worldcup/matches/calendar.html.
Watch all of the games on ESPN, ESPN2 or corporate sister ABC. They are televising every one of the 64 scheduled matches. Online and on ESPN Radio, fans can listen to broadcasts in different languages, including Chinese, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Korean and Portuguese.