The battle for the FIFA World Cup is underway, and win, lose, or draw, host-nation Germany should come out ahead of the game in one of the most important areas of competitive sport: ensuring the safety of the athletes and their legions of fans. In a newly posted update to Spectrum Online, our contributing editor in Germany, John Blau, reports in "Securing the World Cup" that German authorities are going to extraordinary hi-tech lengths to protect the players and the public from threats of violence—from anything from hooligan riots to acts of terror.
German officials have been preparing for the security of this tournament for quite a while. With the specter of the terrorist attack that took the lives of 11 Israeli athletes at the Olympic Games in Munich in 1972 still haunting the consciousness of the nation, planners of the current World Cup are taking as many precautions as they can. "It was a different situation back then; our security was lighter—we felt protected by our Western allies," Christian Sachs, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, told reporters. "Now we don't have these allies taking care of us. The responsibility is all ours, and we're taking it very seriously."
Chief among the security measures put in place is the use of RFID (radio frequency identification) chips in the 3.2 million tickets sold for the contests. Each chip stores personal data on each fan in attendance and is matched to a corresponding database storing information on all attendees. Moreover, in stadiums, fans will be closely monitored by video cameras with such high resolution they can enable security officers to read the program in a patron's hands. "When a flare is fired in block 17, row 12, seat 35, we'll know immediately who lit it," said Wolfgang Niersbach, vice president of the German World Cup Organization Committee.
Blau reports that security squads in all 12 stadiums are equipped with fast fingerprint verification systems for making on-the-spot checks of suspected troublemakers registered in police databases. They also have been issued tap-proof digital terrestrial-trunked radio (TETRA) phones for enhanced communications. And all attendees must be screened by security personnel and pass through gates capable of detecting bomb-making, and even fissile, materials.
Germany has committed 250 000 police officers to the World Cup matches, as well as 2000 soldiers operating technical support equipment and armed vehicles. Overhead, the skies are patrolled by Luftwaffe AWACS planes. And specially equipped helicopters use ultraviolet beams to detect potential sabotage of important rail lines.
From all over, communication streams into the National Information and Cooperation Center (NICC), the hub of Germany's security efforts. During the tournament, the NICC is manned around the clock by security experts from 22 government agencies, as well as representatives from various participating countries and Interpol. Each agency's officers have terminals linked to their own communications network, and each expert can turn quickly to a colleague from another agency to consult on a situation and react swiftly if need be.
Blau writes that despite the time, money, people, and technology that have gone into securing this World Cup, the government's program is not without its shortcomings. Among these, he points out, are a police radio network that has still not converted to digital technology and public doubts as to whether German fighter pilots are capable of scrambling quickly enough to thwart an airborne attack.
The last point is a frightening reminder of how times have changed, as well as a powerful reminder of why such stringent security measures as Germany has put in place this month are necessary.