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

for terrorists.

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

progresses.

“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

Games.

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

transmitters.

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

shambles.”

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

rare.

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

been noted.

“Yes, we have rules,” he said. “But there should always be a

human touch … not just people being so strict and saying only

no.”

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

detectors.

For the highly anticipated U.S.-England match Saturday evening,

security around the stadium in Rustenburg seemed to tighten as the

day progressed.

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

beep.

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

cameras.”

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

entry gates.

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

security arrangements.