Monday, December 7, 2009

Teams to Hire 'War Zone' Security?

This is a story that came out of today's editions of the Pretoria News, an English-language newspaper in the city of Pretoria, in South Africa.

Pretoria, by the way, is a host city for the 2010 World Cup. The United States' last game, vs. Algeria, is in Pretoria.

The gist of the story: That some of the teams going to South Africa are bringing their own security men, and that some of those guys have backgrounds in war zones ... and terror zones.

I would link you to the Pretoria News, but they charge for the story in question. So I'm picking it up from other South African media.

Here it is:

"Many of the nations taking part in the World Cup will use private security firms - including war-zone specialists who operate in Iraq and Afghanistan - to safeguard their players and officials.

"Sources in the private protection industry have said that high-profile football associations from Europe and South America have already hired firms that will use ex-military personnel, some of them special forces veterans, to look after players and their families. The firms will provide round-the-clock armed bodyguards, bulletproof vehicles, hijack prevention advice and squads that can handle kidnap situations. Kidnap insurance is also offered by some agencies.

"The revelations come amid fears there could be 'gaps in the coverage' provided by the organisers. A number of football associations from around the world and senior figures in international administrative circles have concerns sparked by lapses at last summer's Confederations Cup, which was effectively a small-scale test event for 2010.

"'There was no single major mishap, but some worrying gaps were noted, suggesting there won't be enough properly trained security at every place they'll be required,' one source said. 'Security contracts weren't in place until very late, some players had property stolen from hotels, and some fans were victims of crime.

"'And at the Confederations Cup there were just eight teams, playing in four stadiums, three of which were within (112km) of each other. The World Cup is in a whole different league, with 32 teams, 10 stadiums in nine cities across more than a thousand miles, and millions of fans, hundreds of thousands from overseas.'

"Another source said: 'South Africa has a fantastic reputation for sports events. It has staged the Rugby World Cup, Lions tours, and major international cricket - but its infrastructure is under pressure. Booking rooms and internal flights is already a struggle, and the security is just as susceptible.'

"Fifa said it was satisfied the South African authorities had done all they could to secure the safety of players, officials and fans."

Well, there you are. We've been writing about this for months. That South Africa can be a dangerous place. Our sense always has been that the fans paying attention to their surroundings will be save.

(Reminds me of the Scandinavian journalists who covered the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. They were staying on the east side of the Harbor Freeway, and they decided to go for a walk around the neighborhood and got mugged. If they had asked literally anyone from SoCal, they would have been warned off a pleasure walk in that neighborhood.)

Also makes me wonder what sort of laws South Africa has about foreigners carrying weapons (concealed or otherwise) in South Africa. If that is a problem, will they be hiring South African security firms?

Remember, too, the German team apparently has been counseled to wear bullet-proof vests when outside the team compound. Hmmm.

Could be interesting. Well, it all will be.
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