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Home >> Sports
UPDATED: 08:17, March 17, 2006
England, US, Iran pose World Cup security risks
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Nuremberg police director Walter Ernstberger said his first thought on hearing the results of the World Cup soccer draw was that his city could look forward to hosting some exciting games.

Then came a more sobering realization.

"Our next thought, as policemen, was security," he said with careful understatement. "Yes, you could say there are certain increased challenges."

Terrorism and hooliganism are the overriding concerns of police throughout Germany ahead of the World Cup, which starts on June 9 and runs for a month in 12 cities.

But Nuremberg faces some of the biggest potential security headaches of the 64-match event.

The English team, with its huge army of travelling fans and their reputation for troublemaking, comes to town on June 15 to play against Trinidad and Tobago. The United States will face Ghana in Nuremberg a week later.

Of the 32 teams competing, England and the United States are seen as among the top potential terrorist targets - Britain and the United States are high on al Qaeda's list of enemies.

Before those two matches, Mexico will face Iran, also seen as politically sensitive, in the medieval city. Nuremberg will host one more group match, Japan versus Croatia, and one of the last-16 matches.

Complex task

With less than three months until kick-off, preparations are gathering pace across Germany to guarantee security at one of the biggest events in sport - a task made more complex by the German federal system in which each of the 16 states has its own intelligence service and police force.

Two of the host cities, Hamburg and Berlin, staged drills this month in which hundreds of police and emergency workers rehearsed for a variety of disasters, from riots to explosions.

At the Berlin Interior Ministry, a special World Cup security unit has been gathering information for months from dozens of countries, much of it relating to the estimated 1.5 million foreign fans expected to travel to Germany.

Some 280 security experts from 40 countries will attend a last big planning session in Berlin at the end of this month.

In Nuremberg, Mayor Ulrich Maly insists he has no major worries about security. "We welcome every fan, wherever he comes from. We're not afraid of British, Mexican or Croatian passion."

Police director Ernstberger says diplomatically that he hopes the England fans will "pleasantly surprise us," but makes clear his men will not put up with any violence.

"If there are small disturbances like noisy celebrations, we think something like that should be tolerated at a World Cup," he told Reuters in an interview.

"But if it comes to physical confrontation, to violence against other people or destruction of private or public property, we will set the intervention threshold very low and take rigorous measures from the outset."

Almost 1,000 English hooligans were arrested during violent scenes at the Euro 2000 in Belgium and the 1998 World Cup in France was also marred by rioting by English fans.

Dangers outside the stadium

The security challenges go beyond policing the matches because there will be many more fans outside the stadiums.

Officials expect, for example, up to 40,000 England fans to come to Nuremberg, only a quarter of them with tickets.

Those without will be able to watch the games on a giant screen in a public square near the stadium, right next to the unfinished horseshoe-shaped Nuremberg Congress Hall, one of the biggest surviving Nazi architectural relics.

Activities from beach volleyball to sumo wrestling will be on offer to keep fans out of mischief between matches.

Some German officials are concerned that security in these "public viewing areas" could be one of the biggest problems, particularly given the ready availability of beer and wine.

"If (alcohol) serves to create a good happy atmosphere, we have nothing against it, but of course if people drink so much they become aggressive, then that's a serious problem," Ernstberger said.

As well as the English fans, some 20,000 Croats and up to 15,000 Mexicans are expected to come to Nuremberg.

The number of US fans is expected to be much smaller, but security for the American players will be a major preoccupation. Ernstberger said all cities hosting US games would work together on a "common security standard."

But if anything, it is the prospect of hosting the Iranian team that seems to make local officials most nervous.

International tensions over Iran's nuclear programme and statements from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, denying the Holocaust and saying Israel should be wiped from the map, have made the team's visit a potentially delicate one.

"What worries us politically a bit is not that the Iranian team is playing here, but that it may be accompanied by politicians, which causes us some concern at the moment because of the political situation," said Peter Murrmann, World Cup planning co-ordinator for Nuremberg.

"We don't know, for example, if the Iranian president will come with the team to Germany," he said, acknowledging this could trigger protests.

For his part, Ernstberger is hoping for a trouble-free tournament which will give the police a chance to present a welcoming face - in keeping with the official World Cup slogan, "a time to make friends."

Source: China Daily


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