World Cup organisers battle to contain strikes

World Cup organisers battled on Tuesday to contain an outbreak of strikes, which forced police to take charge of security at champions Italy’s opening game and left fans stranded at the stadium.

As Brazil prepared to make their entrance at the tournament, the front-page headlines in South African dailies reflected an unease about how the initial euphoria had evaporated and organisational problems were beginning to mount.

“World Cup Wobbles” read the front page in the Citizen, while the Times led with the headline “Strikes Rock Cup”.

Organisers were furious on Monday evening when stewards who were meant to provide security at Italy’s opener against Paraguay in Cape Town walked off the job barely three hours before kick-off.

Their move came only hours after stewards providing security at Durban’s World Cup stadium, which are employed by the same private security company, clashed with riot police in a protest over their wages.

The dispute is a major embarrassment for organisers, who also had to find alternative transport for nearly 1 000 supporters stuck at Johannesburg’s showpiece Soccer City stadium when bus drivers staged a wildcat strike.

“Although we have respect for workers’ rights, we find it unacceptable for them to disrupt match-day proceedings and will not hesitate to take action in such instances,” said organising committee chief executive Danny Jordaan.

Fifa, which subcontracted stewarding to a South African security company, has convened a meeting between the workers and their employees in a bid to prevent a repeat of Monday’s walk-out.

While the stewarding row remained unresolved, transport officials said that a dispute with drivers on Johannesburg’s new bus system had been settled.

“The buses are running normally,” said Lisa Seftel, the city’s transport boss. “We reached an agreement with them last night [Monday].”

The drivers complained that their schedules had been changed unilaterally because of special services for the World Cup, and demanded changes to overtime payments, she said.

Fans attending The Netherlands’ match against Denmark at Soccer City stadium were left fuming on Monday after the drivers who dropped them off at the stadium then went on strike.

Ever since it was awarded the right to host the tournament six years ago, South Africa has had to fend off claims that its public transport system, lack of infrastructure and high crime make it an unsuitable stage for the world’s most popular sporting event.

The strikes came on top of concern about the number of empty seats at matches. After Fifa promised to investigate how the attendance at a weekend match in Port Elizabeth was about 8 000 short of capacity, there were more embarrassing gaps at Monday’s match between Japan and Cameroon.

There were unlikely to be any such gaps at Brazil’s match against North Korea in Johannesburg later in the day.

But the North Koreans, 2 000-1 outsiders, have created headaches for organisers with their reluctance to hold interviews or open training sessions to the press.

Coach Kim Jong-hun, who says he has received “advice” from the country’s leader Kim Jong-Il on how to reach the finals, refused to take any questions on politics at a rare press briefing on Monday.

Asked if his team could spring an upset against the Brazilians, he replied: “This will bring a lot of joy to the Great Leader, it will show that North Koreans have great mental strength,” he said.—AFP