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Reality, Sport

All Wrapped in Bacon

by Dave Durbach / 08.07.2010

Stab-proof fan vests; looming race wars; terrorism; hooliganism. The seeds of doubt that were planted in the international media before the World Cup now seem like a distant memory. The first African World Cup has turned out to be among the most well-organised and incident-free of them all. Besides the FIFA machine itself, much of the credit is owed to our very own police force. The SAPS have not only done their bit to ensure the safety and well-being of one and all, but have also proven more than willing to go the extra mile, whether by helping confused visitors with directions, or simply sharing a laugh with strangers.

Considering how bad their reputation was before the competition, the FIFA World Cup has proven to be a golden international PR coup for our boys, and girls, in blue. And some credit, albeit begrudgingly, must be given to our dodgy cowboy hat wearing, hard-nosed commissioner Bheki “Dirty Harry” Cele.

They came in all shapes and sizes. For those attending a game, some of the most eye-catching police officers have been those clad in Robocop-style riot gear. 8500 of these “crowd management” types were trained by the French police to be the first line of defence should anything go wrong at the game. Those not intimidated by their insect-like body armour would’ve been subdued by the humour in it all, particularly when watching some of the less athletic cops trying to walk with these unwieldy exoskeletons strapped too tightly too their legs. One can see why most of these guys would rather just stand around looking tough.

A further 4500 police at the games have been new recruits, freshly qualified from the police training institute, and apparently undergoing some form of humiliating initiation by being made to wear puffy tracksuits not seen since school sports days in the early 90s. Another 10 000 are police reservists. The rest are regular city and traffic cops, plus small groups of foreign police with experience in such events. All in all, some 48 500 policemen and women have been dispatched nationwide in and around the ten World Cup stadiums, plus all manner of vehicles: blue-light beamers, bakkies, ratels, casspirs, even horses. With so many police around, it’s hard to see how anything could get out of control, bar the occasional doughnut shortage.

One night I even got pulled over while driving home from a game by cops with sirens and automatic weapons, they threatened to search my car for no discernible reason, beyond letting me know that these guys mean business. Not even Paris Hilton, and her dagga choeffing playmate is safe from the long arm of the law.

SAPS spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Vish Naidoo says that the police are happy with how things have gone in the World Cup so far. “Everything is running like clockwork… The world has acknowledged that South Africa is more than capable of delivering an event of this magnitude,” says Naidoo. “Even FIFA president Sep Blatter has said he is more than happy with the security and hospitality of South Africa.”

Regarding hooliganism, Naidoo says that much of the police’s success is due to preemptive measures taken against noted football hooligans, the majority of whom were refused entry into the country. Others were deported soon after their arrival. 28 of Argentina’s notorious Bara Bravas were sent packing well before the action got underway, 17 of them in an early morning raid in Pretoria a few weeks ago.

With just two matches still to play in this historic World Cup, the police aren’t resting on their laurels just yet. Naidoo says they have made special plans for final and closing ceremony, when security will be beefed up even further for the heads of state and other dignataries expected to be at Soccer City on July 11. Beyond that, life in Mzansi should return to normal, one lasting legacy hopefully being that public perceptions of the cops are better than ever.

All images © Dave Durbach.

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