/ 30 May 2008

Violence in SA puts World Cup at risk

Further outbreaks of violence against foreigners in South Africa could lead Fifa to move the 2010 World Cup elsewhere, the United Nations adviser on sport said on Thursday.

At least 56 people died and up to 100 000 were displaced when mobs armed with clubs, knives and stones rampaged through settlements in Johannesburg, Cape Town and other parts of South Africa this month.

”The images from South Africa were horrible. They’re putting an enormous strain on the Soccer World Cup,” Willi Lemke, the UN Special Advisor on Sport, told Reuters.

He said he hoped the incidents were a lone outbreak of violence. ”But if the scenes repeat themselves, Fifa will rethink its decision in favour of South Africa and, if necessary, pull the plug,” Lemke said.

Fifa, world soccer’s ruling body, has expressed its concern about the attacks on foreigners but said the violence would not impact on the 2010 World Cup.

The attacks have raised concerns about the high crime rate in South Africa and the potential risk to foreign fans who attend the tournament in 2010.

Fifa president Sepp Blatter said on Tuesday the violent incidents had been discussed by the Fifa executive board but they were confident the situation was under control.

Lemke said he would travel to South Africa in June to take part in a conference on how, through sport, to stop young people turning to crime.

”I will hear about how preparations for the Cup are moving forward,” he said. ”The issue of xenophobia will be a question that needs to be answered.”

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon appointed Lemke as special adviser on sport for development and peace in March.

Lemke, a politician from the north German port city of Bremen, was business manager of Werder Bremen soccer club from 1981 to 1999.

Lemke praised the decision to hold the Soccer World Cup in Africa. ”This boosts people’s self-confidence and that’s what they need, given all the problems they are facing there.

”It would therefore be fatal if Fifa came to the conclusion that South Africa won’t be able to make it in time,” he said. – Reuters