Crowd crush at pre-World Cup friendly

Timothy McDonald reported this story

ELEANOR HALL: At least 15 people have been injured in a stampede at a soccer stadium just days before the start of the World Cup.

Police say large crowds gathered outside the ground shortly before the friendly match between Nigeria and North Korea to claim 8,000 free tickets. South African leaders and soccer's governing body FIFA say they remain confident that the country can successfully host the event, as Timothy McDonald reports.

(Sounds of yelling)

TIMOTHY MCDONALD: There were chaotic scenes outside the stadium, in suburban Johannesburg. Fans were lured by the promise of free tickets, but it seems there was confusion about where the tickets were coming from, and there weren't enough on offer.

VOX POP: A ticket, man. I'm supposed to be inside there. Towards the gate. Now I'm disappointed. I'm outside. I can see the gate. I think the game is finished. I wonder what, what's the problem?

VOX POP 2: This is the ticket for the Nigeria match. Understand they're given from Nigerian consulate to go and watch and support our country to win the game. Now they didn't allow us to go inside.

TIMOTHY MCDONALD: There's a large Nigerian community in Johannesburg, and there are suggestions that many Nigeria supporters were holding photocopies of tickets, and tried to push their way into the stadium after the game had started.

Several fans could be seen falling under the rush of people, many wearing Nigeria jerseys. Police spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Eugene Opperman says alcohol appeared to a factor.

EUGENE OPPERMAN: It is weekend and it also unfortunately a time when many people consume liquor and that can sometimes cause a problem also.

TIMOTHY MCDONALD: FIFA says it had nothing to do with the ticketing for the match. The stadium is not on the of the 10 that will be used for the World Cup, which kicks off on Friday but it's not the first time a stampede has taken place at a South African soccer venue. Forty-three people were killed in 2001 when ticket-less fans tried to barge into another Johannesburg match.

Before yesterday's crush, South Africa's Prime Minister Jacob Zuma was optimistic, and clearly caught up in the history of the moment.

JACOB ZUMA: Today marks just four days before the kick off of the FIFA 2010 Soccer World Cup for the first time in the African continent. We have come a long way in football development since the first football match was reportedly played on the 23rd August 1862 at the site of what is now the Green Point Stadium in Cape Town.

TIMOTHY MCDONALD: FIFA President Sepp Blatter was equally upbeat.

SEPP BLATTER: Bringing the World Cup to Africa and to South Africa is to trust South Africa, to trust South Africans, to trust Africans and to say them, you are strong. You can do it.

TIMOTHY MCDONALD: But South Africa's the challenges go well beyond the pitch, or even the stadium. There are concerns about many of the country's poorest townships, where protests have flared up in recent months, as residents express their anger over poor services.

(Sound of protesters)

(Sound of gunfire)

TIMOTHY MCDONALD: Evens Motale lives in a township just a few kilometres from the Johannesburg stadium where World Cup matches will be played.

EVENS MOTALE: We have got foreigners coming from overseas. They find us here, we are suffering. We don't have toilets. We having pot holes. Our shacks, you see, is very embarrassing. It's very embarrassing. So the protesting continue until the end of the World Cup I think.

TIMOTHY MCDONALD: Unions have also been taking to the streets to protest the rising cost of living and falling wages.

Zwelinzima Vavi is from the Congress of South African Trade Unions. He says it is possible there will be a strike during the World Cup.

ZWELINZIMA VAVI: If it is imposed on us by circumstances, we will have no choice. The labour laws now are very clear. You can't say sorry we are in the middle of strike but we, in the interests of the World Cup, have to suspend. We will resume the strike after the World Cup. I think that our strike will easily be illegal.

TIMOTHY MCDONALD: South Africa is also facing challenges from the fans coming in from overseas. Seven Argentine hooligans were arrested and detained in Johannesburg over the weekend.

ELEANOR HALL: Timothy McDonald reporting. 

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