JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - World Cup officials have dismissed fears that tensions over the murder of a South African white supremacist leader would frighten away foreign soccer fans already worried by violent crime.
“There is no political turmoil... it is clearly a criminal act and crime is in every country,” chief local organiser Danny Jordaan on Thursday told a news conference where the issue was repeatedly raised.
“I don’t think you must completely misconstrue it in this manner, it is just not correct.”
The murder of Eugene Terre’blanche by two black workers at his farm on Saturday has stoked fears of rising racial tension and concern that it will deter foreign fans, whose numbers have already dropped because of crime and the high cost of travel.
South Africa has one of the world’s highest rates of violent crime and authorities are mobilising more than 40,000 police to protect World Cup fans.
Jordaan added: “We have said it very clearly, 11 million tourists are coming to South Africa every year.
“The fact of the matter is that this is one of the most popular destinations on this continent and the world. The reality is quite different to what people are raising.”
Jerome Valcke, secretary general of soccer’s world governing body FIFA, also dismissed fears about security and said organisers had done everything possible to ensure the safety of fans.
Jordaan and local organising committee chairman Irvin Khoza said with 63 days left until the World Cup starts on June 11, 500,000 of the nearly three million tickets were not yet sold.
Jordaan called on South Africans to grab the tickets, which will go on sale across the counter rather than on the Internet on April 15, saying organisers were seeing a late surge in interest.
Officials have acknowledged that FIFA’s Internet-based ticketing system was not suitable for poor black South Africans who are the country’s biggest soccer fans but who are accustomed to buying tickets only on match days, at the stadium.
The cheapest class of tickets, at $20 (13.1 pounds), will be available at mobile and fixed ticket booths across the country.
“This is what people have asked for, to bring the ticket purchasing experience closer to the experience of football fans in this country,” Jordaan said.
“We have moved to close the gap between that experience and our own procedures to sell tickets. We hope to sell out tickets in the last phase and we depend on South Africans to take that responsibility as good hosts and supporters of the event.”
Valcke has in the past said the number of foreign visitors expected to attend the World Cup had fallen from 450,000 to 350,000 but Jordaan said organisers were still waiting for precise estimates based on ticketing.
However, he acknowledged that the global economic crisis and the high price to fly to South Africa for European and South American fans had been a deterrent.
Jordaan said South Africa had silenced critics who predicted organisers would run out of money and the stadiums would not be ready in time. They are all complete including six newly-built arenas widely considered some of the best in the world.
Jordaan said the organising committee had spent only 32 percent so far of the $423 million budget it was given by FIFA.
Editing by Ken Ferris