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Organizers of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa are set to face demands for assurances of player safety from the international players union FIFPro, Yahoo! Sports has learned.
In the wake of last week's terror attack in which three members of the Togo delegation at the African Cup of Nations in Angola were killed by separatists, FIFPro, which supports the interests of players around the world, is seeking a more active role in security arrangements at the World Cup.
A well-placed source told Yahoo! Sports that the union has been contacted by many of its national representatives and asked to seek clarification from South African World Cup officials that adequate steps are being taken to ensure a trouble-free tournament.
Even though several hundred miles separate Angola from South Africa, many World Cup players have had concerns about traveling to the southern part of the continent following the Togo tragedy. To allay the fears of his members, FIFPro president Gerardo Movilla is expected to contact World Cup organizing committee president Danny Jordaan this week in order to obtain key information regarding anti-terror prevention measures.
It was with almost indecent haste following last week's events in Angola, where members of a militant group opened fire on the Togo team bus, that the World Cup damage control machine sprung to life.
Outraged that the incident had brought South African security into focus, Jordaan insisted the Angolan situation bore no more relevance to the tournament than a bomb going off in Spain would to a World Cup in England.
"We don't apply the same standard to any other country," Jordaan said. "If something happens on the African continent, we cannot condemn the whole continent."
In terms of geography, Jordaan may be correct but he misses the point that these events, in a nation in the southern part of the fascinating but sadly unstable African continent just five months before the World Cup's kickoff on June 11, have raised very serious issues.
South Africa is already fighting hard to ensure that its sky-high rate of murders, muggings and car-jackings do not impact World Cup visitors. But if the nation cannot control the violence within its own society, then how will it handle the potential threat from more sophisticated terror groups?
Few players have spoken out publicly, preferring to let FIFPro handle their concerns. However, defender Ismael Bouzid, who hopes to be involved with USA's Group C rival Algeria, talked about the extra challenges players will face at the tournament.
"What happened [in Angola] was very bad," said Bouzid, who plays his club soccer in Scotland with Hearts. "In Africa when you play away from home you can have problems, but normally the worst you get is people throwing stones at you.
"But when I saw this [attack of Togo's team bus], I was shocked. I don't understand why this happened. Now we have the World Cup to come and Johannesburg isn't the easiest city to be in. I hope there will be good security for the players and the people."
Billions of dollars worth of soccer talent and millions of fans from around the world are preparing to head to South Africa, and they will do so with the knowledge that soccer and terrorism can no longer safely be considered independent.
Ever since the atrocities perpetuated at the 1972 Munich Olympics, radical groups have tended to shy away from major sporting events. But the precedent set by the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda, which took itself from anonymity to worldwide notoriety with its heinous actions against the Togo group, means that rightly or wrongly, there will be some additional apprehension heading into South Africa.
U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati said that no additional steps are being taken to protect the American squad.
"These major sporting events can be targets," Gulati said. "So we're very conscious of the security issues. We don't talk a lot about them in detail for fairly obvious reasons."
South Africa hopes the world will be talking just about soccer, not security, over the next five months. It may find itself disappointed.
Group C watch
England – Goalkeeper David James is reportedly being left out of the Portsmouth lineup because the cash-strapped club can't afford his one-year contract extension if he plays a set number of games.
Algeria – Malawi gave the Algerians a nightmare start to their African Cup of Nations campaign, inflicting a humiliating 3-0 defeat on Monday.
Slovenia – Fast-improving defender Marko Suler is likely to move from Belgian club Gent to Spanish side Espanyol for $2.2 million.
Argentina coach Diego Maradona's FIFA ban is set to end, and he received more good news this week. Fans of his former club Napoli have started a collection to buy back one of Maradona's earrings, which was confiscated late last year by Italian tax collectors.
Chicago missed the cut as the USA World Cup bidding consortium narrowed its number of potential host cities to 18.
World Cup numerology
148 – The millions-of-dollars profit made by the organizers of the 2006 World Cup in Germany, one of the most financially successful tournaments in soccer history.
Put it on your calendar
Jan. 18 – USA's Group C rival Algeria plays host nation Angola in its final group game at the African Cup of Nations.
- South Africa