Security a work in progress at World Cup venues
Someone walks through a metal detector and the buzzer sounds.
Smiling guards wave him forward without making him empty his
pockets or even explain why the alarm might have gone off.
That scene, unthinkable at an airport terminal, has been
repeated many times at several stadiums in the first days of the
World Cup. With the attention of billions of soccer fans, the
monthlong event hosted by South Africa could be a tempting target
The laid-back security treatment at stadiums and the main media
center appears to be reserved mostly for credentialed visitors such
as journalists and VIPs. Bag searches are often cursory or
nonexistent, and credentials often are not closely examined.
Horst Schmidt, a senior FIFA security expert who is an adviser
to the World Cup organizers, expressed confidence that regular fans
were being rigorously screened, but said it was possible that
people with credentials were treated with more deference.
“Maybe it’s more relaxed,” he said. “But there are strict
orders… They checked my accreditation. They looked into my face
to compare with the photograph.”
Thus far, no serious security problems have been reported at the
venues during matches – fans have been exuberant and mostly
well-behaved. Police say they are pleased, and FIFA – while
acknowledging widespread inexperience among the venue screeners –
is confident there will be steady improvement as the tournament
“This was the first time they were facing this amount of people
getting in,” Schmidt said. “It takes some time to make them aware
and familiar with the situation.”
Nevertheless, in a post-9/11 era when high security is the norm
– and in a time when assassins posing as journalists have succeeded
in killing public figures – security is visibly more porous than at
other modern multinational events, including recent Olympic
Journalists with The Associated Press and other organizations
have repeatedly encountered lax security.
One AP editor has set off metal detectors several times without
so much as a bag check. Another who misplaced his credential got
into the media center without even being asked to show it. A
photographer entering the Port Elizabeth stadium said guards barely
glanced at the gear in her case, which included cables and radio
At the stadium in Durban, an AP reporter wandered by mistake
into the supposedly off-limits presidential section, observing
crisp white tablecloths and wine glasses at the ready, but
unquestioned by private security guards who were there.
Cathal Kelly, a Toronto Star columnist, depicted security for
the U.S.-England match Saturday in Rustenburg as “a smiling
Indeed, many of the reporters who noted security lapses have
commended the security workers for their cheerfulness. That’s a
sharp contrast to the relatively grim-faced screeners who have
abounded at some past Olympics and World Cups.
Routinely at those events, credentials were electronically
scanned every time one entered an official venue, while at this
World Cup there’s no such scanning. At the Beijing Olympics and to
a lesser extent at the Vancouver Games, reporters’ bags were often
searched thoroughly – here, to date, that’s been relatively
The local organizing committee has primary responsibility for
conditions inside the stadiums. Its spokesman, Rich Mkhondo, said
the committee was unaware of any major problems with venue
security, and his office referred detailed questions to the South
African Police Services.
“We are extremely satisfied that our operations are running as
planned,” said Vishnu Naidoo, a police spokesman. “Much credit
must be given to the fans for their exemplary behavior.”
Schmidt said FIFA had been satisfied with the training provided
to the security workers, who were hired by private companies. But
he said there’s no substitute for game-day conditions.
“You can train for this theoretically,” he said. “But you
cannot have the experience without being in the stadium. If people
have no experience, it takes some time.”
Schmidt said he was pleased that the screeners’ friendliness had
“Yes, we have rules,” he said. “But there should always be a
human touch … not just people being so strict and saying only
Schmidt was asked if one factor in the security arrangements
might be related to South Africa’s past as a racially segregated
land of white-minority rule. Would some members of the mostly black
security contingent tend to avoid confrontations with whites
entering the venues?
“I remember discussions after the Confederations Cup (held in
South Africa last year) about whether people have a problem saying
no,” Schmidt said. “But I think it has changed. They have been
well-trained. They can be strict if necessary.”
There were signs that security was tightening as the tournament
proceeded. One reporter who observed casual screening of
journalists at Friday’s opening South Africa-Mexico match said
security was tighter the next day at the Argentina-Nigeria match –
with screeners checking bags and using hand-held metal
For the highly anticipated U.S.-England match Saturday evening,
security around the stadium in Rustenburg seemed to tighten as the
One reporter said he entered the venue without being scanned or
body-checked, even though he was carrying bulky outerwear over his
arm that could have concealed dangerous items.
Later in the day, reporters were checked with hand-held metal
detectors, and asked to account for any items that triggered a
Security staff operating an X-ray scanner specifically ordered a
cameraman entering the Rustenburg venue not to put his bulky TV
camera and tripod through the machine. Asked about that, a guard
replied, “Guns have to go through the machines, but not the
For fans in Rustenburg, it was a different story. Those taking
buses to the venue had to show their tickets to board, and some had
to wait an hour in lines leading through metal detectors at the
South African police had received no substantive complaints
about lax security, said Naidoo, the police spokesman. “On the
contrary, only praises are forthcoming,” he said.
He said venue security personnel had been instructed to be
vigilant even when dealing with accredited people, making sure they
passed through metal detectors and checking them thoroughly if an
alarm was sounded.
“If we have a problem with the private security, then we as the
joint security forces will step in and take over security at the
stadium,” he said.
Outside the venues, security has been a constant concern for
many World Cup participants, and several foreign journalists have
been robbed of their money and gear.
Most teams in the tournament – and some media organizations –
have their own security personnel, and there has been tight,
effective security at many of the teams’ training sites. So far, no
team official or star player has publicly conveyed any unease with