Even if Germany fails to win the World Cup taking place on its home turf for the second time in 30 years, the country could earn plenty of recognition from security experts for making the planet’s largest sporting event one of the safest ever.
More than 3 million people will be attending the 64 games, running from 9 June to 9 July. An additional 10 million are expected to flood into the 12 cities hosting the games and other large cities to watch the competition in some 400 public viewing areas and party in the streets and pubs. Billions around the world will be glued to their TV sets watching the action.
With so many eyeballs fixated on football (or soccer as it’s called in the U.S.), this isn’t a good time for something to go wronglike a hooligan riot or even a terrorist attack. ”There are always security risks when you have large gatherings of people,” said German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble in a televised interview.
Security threats at this World Cup are perhaps the greatest ever in the history of the competition. The country’s small but persistent neo-Nazi groups are holding demonstrations in some of the host cities to cause a stir. Hooligans from England, France, The Netherlands and, in particular, Poland, hope to knock a few heads as well. Add to this the threat of international terrorism.
Of the 32 nations taking part in the German tournament, five of themSpain, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, the U.K and the U.S.have suffered attacks by Al Qaeda or like-minded militant Islamists. Six moreAustralia, Italy, Japan, Poland, South Korea and the Czech Republichave major troop contingents in Iraq or Afghanistan. In total, 22 games have been identified by the Federal Intelligence Office as ”high risk.” Arguably, a football stadium packed with fans in Gelsenkirchen is, symbolically, less powerful than skyscrapers full of workers in the world’s financial capital, but one big bang could still create plenty of publicity.
Or imagine this: the U.S. and Iran, both competing in the tournament, advance far enough to meet in a match. A security nightmare? You bet, andnot surprisinglyGermany is leaving little to chance.
The German organizing committee has mandated personal identification in the stadiums. Never before have fans attending an event organized by the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) been required to provide so much information about themselves that can be accessed so quickly. All 3.2 million tickets are embedded with an RFID (radio frequency identification) chip containing identification data, to be checked against a database with personal information such as date of birth and passport number as fans pass through entrance gates. It’s the first World Cup tournament to use RFID technology to identify ticket holders, and it's not likely to be the last (even though FIFA Secretary General Urs Linsi told reporters at an earlier news conference that ”the absolute control of soccer fans is new” and that FIFA doesn’t plan to ”store as much data as the Germans" at future events).
Not only is the identification technology intended to keep extreme hooligans and other potential troublemakers out of the stadium; it’s also meant to keep tabs on those inside. ”When a flare is fired in block 17, row 12, seat 35, we’ll know immediately who lit it,” says Wolfgang Niersbach, vice president of the German World Cup Organization Committee in Frankfurt.
All the stadiums are equipped with video surveillance systems. For instance, Munich’s new, state-of-the-art Allianz Arena, which seats nearly 70 000, has an advanced closed-circuit television system equipped with more than 80 surveillance cameras so powerful that security personnel can zoom in and read the game program in a spectator’s hand. Moreover, a huge network of sensors monitors everything from fire alarms and parking spaces to security systems.