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Fifa slams World Cup critics

World Cup organisers said on Wednesday they were very happy with ticket sales for June’s soccer spectacular and angrily slammed alarmist foreign reports about South African crime that could frighten off fans. Sales are lagging demand in Germany four years ago, but Fifa said this was understandable given the distance fans from Europe, home to many of the teams, had to travel.

The sport’s governing body said 1,2-million applications were received for tickets from 192 countries during the third phase of sales that ended last week, bringing applications to about two million for the total of three million seats.

“Since the draw [on December 4)] we have seen a flurry in terms of ticket sales … the sales have gone very well, we are extremely delighted,” Danny Jordaan, CEO of the local organising committee, said.

Interest appeared to be growing among South Africans, previously a major concern for Fifa, with almost one million applications, nearly 80% of the total, in the latest sales phase ahead of the month-long event, starting on June 11.

More than 50 000 applications came from the United States, which has consistently led foreign demand, with another 41 529 from Britain. Sales in Germany, usually a major fan base, were just under 15 000.

Six matches had been oversubscribed in all the categories of seats, including the final and two semifinals.

Officials said a spate of recent European reports of low interest in the tournament had focused only on tickets sold through national federations and did not take account of other ways seats could be purchased.

Foreign media criticised
Fifa general secretary Jerome Valcke said a shortage of flights to South Africa and their high cost was a problem, but he and Jordaan condemned media reports slating the host country’s high levels of crime, and accommodation and transport problems.

“It’s sad that every morning when you wake up people are saying you should not go to South Africa … it’s insane and it is completely wrong,” Valcke said, referring to recent reports, particularly in England and Germany.

Every country had security issues, including the United States and Britain, he added.

“Where can we organise the World Cup? On the moon? Where there is no one?” he asked. “Don’t kill the World Cup before the World Cup has taken place.”

South African and World Cup officials are sensitive about violence, which is one of the biggest concerns around the tournament.

The country has one of the world’s highest rates of violent crime, with about 50 murders a day, more than the United States, which has six times the population.

More than 40 000 police are being mobilised to protect the tournament.

Jordaan said some of the criticism was not based on fact, adding that South Africa attracted millions of tourists a year and had hosted thousands of English cricket and rugby fans for recent tours without problems.

“Some things that you read have no basis in reality anywhere. We are happy where we are. The teams are happy where they are, they are coming,” he said.

Jordaan recently expressed concern about low sales among poor black South Africans, the biggest local supporters of soccer, despite cheaper tickets designed for them. He said organisers realised bank and internet sales points were not accessible to many of these fans, and over-the-counter cash sales points would open in April.

German soccer federation officials said earlier this month that sales were slow due to security concerns and high travel costs, but this should not cause concern because it was a similar pattern to the 2002 World Cup in other distant locations, South Korea and Japan. – Reuters

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