Organisers allay security fears, promise tough measures

Published: Sunday, January 26, 2003, 17:49 [IST]
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Johannesburg: World Cup organisers have gone on the offensive to allay security fears and have promised tough measures to ensure an event-free competition, including close-circuit television to monitor grounds.

The World Cup's security directorate said they have put in place a 1,000-page blueprint, which had been shaped since talks on safety started in March 2001. South African police also went on full alert for the competition, shutting the gates at grounds around the country to restrict access to all but essential personnel. "Our general mission is to ensure a people-friendly, yet secure event," World Cup security chief Patric Ronan said. "We are planning to enhance South Africa's image through the World Cup," he added.

But the competition has been overshadowed by security concerns, especially in neighbouring Zimbabwe, where six games are to be played by England, Australia, Pakistan, India, Namibia and The Netherlands. The England team has already received anonymous letters threatening violence if they play in Harare. England, currently on tour in Australia, is due to begin its World Cup campaign in the Zimbabwean capital on February 13. On Friday, the International Cricket Council (ICC) unanimously gave the green light for the games to go ahead, following assurances that the players and officials' safety would be assured.

"We are complying with the security measures that the security directorate has set down," World Cup general manager in Zimbabwe David Everington assured. But he admitted that stadiums in Zimbabwe would not be fitted with close circuit television. "We are dealing with small grounds, which means that security details can keep watch manually rather than electronically," Everington said. Ronan added, "We are monitoring the situation in Zimbabwe very closely and are in contact there with officials on a day-to-day basis."

And security at the games will be tight - both for players and spectators alike, Ronan promised. Every member of the 14 teams to arrive in South Africa will be assigned bodyguards, while access to their hotel rooms will be strictly controlled. Upon arrival, the teams will be briefed by South African security specialists and police, who will talk to players about ICC regulations, as well as their personal safety. At the grounds, fans will be met by metal detectors and security personnel doing manual searches. "They will be looking for a host of restricted items, from firearms to bottles, to items that could be deemed as so-called 'ambush advertising'," Ronan said. Close circuit cameras will cast a beady eye over South African grounds, controlled from a central command post.

Nobody, except players and umpires will be allowed on the field, with a 1.7 metre moat covered by tangled netting standing between the spectators and the players. The penalties can be severe. For running onto the field, a perpetrator can get a fine of up to $ 4,000, or two years in jail, or both, Ronan said. "Even just an over-excited spectator can unintentionally run into a star player who then tears a ligament," said Ronan. South African police spokeswoman Charmain Muller said police started its deployment for the contest on Saturday. "We have started mobilising," she said but declined to give numbers on the ground. Suffice to say that like the successful UN Earth Summit last year, we will have enough people to deal with any eventuality," she said.

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