Fears over how South Africa will deal with 350,000 visiting supporters to the World Cup were highlighted after a terrifying stampede at a pre-tournament friendly.
Ten people were taken to hospital–with one police officer suffering serious injuries–after 1,000 spectators rushed to get into the friendly match yesterday between Nigeria and North Korea at the Makhulong Stadium in Johannesburg.
Disturbing scenes showed children being taken away with blood pouring from their faces.
The images will unnerve the game’s governing body FIFA which has resisted claims that South Africa does not have the infrastructure and organisation to stage the tournament.
Fans had tried to break down the gates at the ground after police had closed them after the 4pm kick-off as earlier spectators tried to get into the ground.
The problem of dealing with a relatively small crowd came as England prepare to play at a similar ground tomorrw in a pre-tournament friendly in front of sell out crowd of 12,000.
The game against South African side the Platinum All Stars takes place near their Rustenburg training camp and the crowd has been reduced to 12,000 although the ground has a 20,000 capacity.
Last night the South African authorities made a plea for football fans to turn up early for tournament games to prevent a repeat of yesterday’s scenes.
However, while fans from many other countries like to enter grounds more than an hour before kick-off thousands the tradition for English supporters has been to make their way to their seats less than 15 minutes before the games start.
Problems occurred for the South African police and authorities yesterday when hundreds of fans attempted to enter the ground carrying photocopies of free tickets which had been distributed before the match.
Most of those involved in both an initial stampede and then an attempt to rush the gates of the stadium appeared to be wearing Nigerian jerseys.
Of equal concern to the South African World Cup organisers was a problem inside the ground shortly after the second half began.
The match referee was forced to halt the game for ten minutes after a railing attached to a grandstand broke loose and left hundreds of fans just feet from a dangerous fall from the terracing.
Last night an FA spokesman said that the South African tournament organisers had made assurances that security for the England friendly today would be ‘intensified.’
The Makhulong Stadium has a 15,000 capacity and last year was the subject of a £3.8 million refit as one of four practice stadiums to be used in and around the city during the World Cup.
The ground has been cleared by both the South African Premier Soccer League and FIFA and boasts floodlights, a 200 square metre media facility and both VIP and V-VIP areas.
Yesterday fans caught up in the stampede told how they were crushed on the ground shortly before kick-off.
‘The crowd just overpowered me and I went down,’ said Japhta Mombelo who suffered cuts to his head.
‘I fell down and people just fell over me.The crowd was overpowering.’
The first rush came when the gates opened to allow fans into the stadium. Police soon closed the gates, but when they were reopened, a second rush occurred, with more people being pushed over.
A total of six ambulances were sent to the scene .
The Nigeria and North Korean football teams were lining up for the national anthems when the second surge happened and had no idea about the scenes outside the ground.
Last year, FIFA fined Ivory Coast’s football federation more than £30,000 after 22 people died in a stampede at a World Cup qualifying match.
Official World Cup security was not in place at the match because it was a only classed as a ‘friendly’ but one police officer blamed FIFA for the trouble.
‘FIFA made the tickets free and now look what happened. This was not our problem but FIFA’s problem because so many people heard they could watch a match for nothing.’
England’s warm-up game today (Mon) at the Moruleng Stadium will see all supporters produce their tickets for the match which is eagerly anticipated by local soccer enthusiasts.
Last night an FA spokesman said: ‘We were always insistent that there should only be 12,000 tickets for this game even though the stadium is capable of holding 20,000.The distribution of the tickets was also very carefully controlled.
‘But after the incident at the Nigeria-North Korea game we called the organisers to highlight the need for measures to prevent any such rush or stampede at our game and have been assured security in and around the ground will be intensified.’
Fans break through the gates to watch the warm-up match between North Korea and Nigeria in Johannesburg.
Jerome Valcke, the under- pressure Fifa secretary general, was unequivocal when asked at the turn of the year why the number of overseas visitors planning to travel to South Africa for the World Cup was down on expectations.
He railed against the “really bad and sad” reporting in Europe, and in particular Germany and England, which, he said, was skewing perceptions of South Africa and harming ticket sales. And that was before a Daily Star front page warned that England fans may be “caught up in a machete race war” in a “crime ravaged” country. That left UK journalists based in South Africa desperately trying to explain to colleagues that the Star’s editorial line was not representative of the British press as a whole.
It is beyond question that there are a string of issues surrounding the South African World Cup that are open to legitimate probing. Some are the same ones as those faced by any country hosting a major tournament. Will the venues be ready? What is the level of the security threat? Will visitors be overcharged for tickets and hotel rooms? But, given that this is the first African World Cup and is taking place in a country with a particular history, there are also additional questions. Would the money lavished on new stadiums be better spent on other priorities? Or had winning the right to host a World Cup prompted a leap forward in terms of investment in infrastructure, transport and tourism that simply wouldn’t have happened without it?
But over two years there has been a growing sense in South Africa that some of the reporting from British newspapers in particular has been overly negative and, for some, retained an undercurrent of post-colonial superiority that, followed to its logical conclusion, would ensure that no World Cup or Olympic Games ever took place outside the US and Europe.
Nicola Brewer, the British high commissioner in South Africa who was in London last week ahead of the World Cup, said: “There has been a sense that the tabloids in particular have focused in a rather sensational way on some of the negative stories. I am not trying to pretend that there aren’t problems in South Africa, and nor are the politicians. These things are domestic priorities–crime, health, education. But you need to keep it in proportion and you need a sense of perspective.”
The criticism has been further complicated by the fact that many South African newspapers syndicate a sizeable amount of content from UK newspapers and several are modelled on their British counterparts. The web has also been a factor, meaning that over the top conjecture is given the same weight as finely argued investigation and ensuring that all articles, in all papers are available internationally within moments of being published. Particularly controversial examples are linked to, copied, pasted and passed around while more measured arguments are passed over.
Yet there has also been a tetchiness to some of the reaction in the South African media and, in particular, from tournament organisers, that suggests an unwillingness to engage on genuine issues that are central to the country’s future.
It is not as though the same South African media that have railed against the foreign press have been slow to question the tournament. In particular, there have been searching questions asked of Fifa, with one newspaper winning a lengthy court battle to be able to reveal the details of the contract between the governing body and the host nation. One tabloid even featured a picture of Fifa president Sepp Blatter on the lavatory on its front page.
Hard on the heels of Canadian outrage at reporting of the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, when a pile-up of problems at the start of the games provoked a major row between the International Olympic Committee and sections of the British press, there is a pattern emerging. “What I read in the British papers bears absolutely no relation to what I’ve been seeing in these games,” said the IOC’s director of communications, Mark Adams. Several Canadian papers, and many South African ones, have looked to the London Olympics as an opportunity for revenge. But they may be disregarding the fact that the British press is likely to be as criticial–if not more so–of an event in its own back yard.
Analysis by the media monitoring group Media Tenor suggests that the way in which the World Cup build-up has been reported is not unusual. Analysing 66,446 stories in 195 titles from 37 countries, it showed that the concerns may have been different but that Germany also received a rough ride in the run-up to its tournament.
It is possible that the South African hosts have underestimated the extent to which major sporting events are scrutinised during preparation but tend to enjoy an altogether different appraisal in hindsight.
As William Saunderson-Meyer, a columnist for the Mail & Guardian (the Guardian’s South African sister title), recently wrote: “Dare one predict that the World Cup will be neither miracle-cure nor disaster? Just a marvellous sporting spectacle in an extraordinarily beautiful and hospitable country, enviously watched on television by half the globe.”