Four days before the World Cup kicks off, the unedifying spectacle of football officials and policemen blaming each other for a dangerous stampede outside a friendly Nigeria-North Korea match at Ekurhuleni, near Johannesburg, is a little worrying for any fan arriving in South Africa. Reports from the scene say between 15-20 spectators were injured in the crush as they broke through the gates of the 12,000-seater stadium. The Associated Press said 13 people were hospitalized, including a policeman who was seriously injured.
Asked why his organization had opted for such a small venue when the game would likely attract large numbers from Johannesburg’s sizeable Nigerian community, a spokesman for Nigeria’s soccer federation Taiwo Ogunjobi blamed World Cup tournament organizers FIFA. “We had no choice,” he said. “That was the only venue available to us. FIFA had taken control of all the stadia we could have used and we had to settle for this one because we needed to play this match.” Asked why they were unable to control the crowds, the police blamed FIFA too. “FIFA made the tickets free and now look,” an unidentified policeman told Associated Press. Nothing to do with us, said FIFA. “This friendly match has no relation whatsoever with the operational organisation of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, for which we remain fully confident,” said FIFA in a statement, adding: “Contrary to some media reports, FIFA had nothing to do with the ticketing of this game.”
South Africa had three main challenges in staging the World Cup: infrastructure, transport and security. It pulled off the first two, in some style, when you consider the spectacular new stadia in Soweto, Durban and Cape Town. It’s also true that foreigners tend to imagine South Africa’s high crime rate describes a far more dangerous country than the reality. But this kind of inept organization and policing, and concentrating on avoiding blame rather than discovering and learning from any mistakes, is not going to reassure anyone.