/ 10 January 2006

‘Deficiencies’ at World Cup stadiums

German consumer protection watchdog Stiftung Warentest warned on Tuesday of ”serious deficiencies” in security at four of the 12 stadiums to be used during the soccer World Cup finals starting in June.

The independent group released a study showing that the Olympic Stadium in Berlin, the Veltins Arena in the western city of Gelsenkirchen and Leipzig’s Zentralstadion in eastern Germany were ill-equipped to cope with a stampede.

The study, presented at a news conference by one of its authors, Hubertus Primus, found that there was no plan to allow fans to enter the pitch in case of a mass panic.

”When there is a panic, the crowd keeps moving without thinking,” Primus said.

The study found that in Berlin there was a three-metre wide ditch separating the crowd section of the stadium from the playing field, while in Leipzig in an emergency fans would have to scale a concrete wall and then leap over 3,4m to get to safety

The watchdog’s conclusions run in stark contrast to assurances from World Cup organisers that with â,¬1,4-billion spent in the last five years in rebuilding and renovating the World Cup stadia there would be no cause for concern in terms of public safety.

The group identified a fourth stadium — Fritz Walter in the southwestern city of Kaiserslautern — that had serious faults in terms of fire protection.

All of the grounds are already being used to host German top flight soccer matches and in some cases European Champions League games.

The study, undertaken last September and October, found that two-thirds of the venues to be used during the World Cup failed to comply with security guidelines established by the international soccer body Fifa.

The study, some aspects of which were leaked in advance, sparked an angry reaction from the president of the World Cup’s organising committee, Franz Beckenbauer.

”Stiftung Warentest may know about face lotions, olive oils and vacuums. That’s what they should stick with,” he told the mass-circulation daily Bild.

Organising committee vice-chairperson Horst Schmidt also denounced the findings saying that the grounds in question were hosting league games weekly with no problems and that there was nothing for fans to fear during the World Cup.

The World Cup will kick off June 9 in the southern city of Munich, with the final match scheduled for July 9 in Berlin. – AFP