Countdown to South Africa

On the 8th January 2010 the Togolese national football team’s coach was attacked by gunmen in the Cabinda province of Angola, casting a considerable shadow on not only the 2010 African Cup of Nations tournament, but also over the sport of football in Africa as a whole. I remember the following Saturday watching Football Focus, and Mark Lawrenson was asked if he thought this attack raised questions over safety and violence during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. His answer, as always, was succinct and to the point, stating that ‘Of course it doesn’t; why should something that occurs in Germany affect the UK?’ A fair point, though South Africa has a recent history of crime far worse than any country in Europe.

The latest statistics for firearm-related homicide rank South Africa as the most dangerous country in the world by some margin, with its 74.57 deaths per 100,000 people per year in 2000 considerably outweighing the 51.77 deaths in Colombia and the 33 deaths in Thailand for the same number of people. In terms of intentional homicides, while South Africa’s figures have improved from 50 deaths per 100,000 people per year in 2000 to 37 in 2008, the country still ranks as one of the top ten most dangerous countries in the world, and the ‘Southern Africa’ sub-region ranks as the most dangerous region in the world. Crime rates in South Africa, in short, are horrific. So, the question stands as to whether football fans should feel safe as they make their way to the Southern hemisphere for football’s biggest party in the summer.

There can be little doubt that the issue of crime in the country is certainly deterring to tourists. In 2008, the tourism minister of the country stated that the country’s crime figures had deterred 22 million potential tourists in the previous five years! While figures for the amount of foreigners targeted are hard to come by, it is by no means a surprise that despite having the potential to be a tourist hotspot, the nation’s crime pandemic is off putting to potential visitors.

The 2010 World Cup poses a far different proposition to the ordinary holiday season however. Fans will presumably be mingling with other fans and, in the main, be staying in and exploring areas dominated by their fellow football fans. While these areas will by no means be immune to crime, they will certainly be considerably safer than the back streets of Durban or Cape Town. While crime will no doubt be a concern for many, and put others off the idea of attending the World Cup completely, it should not be seen as a barrier to potential fans wanting to attend football’s biggest party.

South Africa has experience of hosting international sporting events, and a perfect example of South Africa’s ability to host such an event relatively safely can be seen in last summer’s Confederations Cup. The event passed with few major incidents, though granted there were incidences of minor crime such as theft occurring to both players and fans. Even then only 39 instances of crime occurred in and around the stadia, which is a relatively small figure in relation to the estimated 600,000 people who attended matches, and there was no unusual increase in crime, and in fact there was a decrease in what is referred to as ‘serious crime,’ which ranges from murder to car theft, suggesting that the more football fans that attend the World Cup this summer, the safer the event will be. And on the subject of past sporting events, the 1995 Rugby World Cup was also held in South Africa and passed relatively smoothly and is not at all remembered for any instances of crime. If these examples are anything to go by, then fans should travel to South Africa in relative confidence.

Compared to other nations in Africa, South Africa is arguably the best prepared, not just in terms of infrastructure and stadia, (though that is unquestionably why Sepp Blatter and friends elected it as the host nation) but also in terms of political stability. Granted the crime, violence and protests that South Africa witnesses are not familiar to our Western lenses, but compared to, say, the economic and political crisis ongoing in Zimbabwe, the recent civil wars witnessed in Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea and the genocide which occurred in Rwanda barely fifteen years ago, South Africa seems comparatively stable. In short, if any African nation is in a position, both materially and politically, to host the most popular sporting event in the world, that nation is surely South Africa.

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