Cape Argus/Reuters, 30 May 2008
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Further outbreaks of violence against immigrants in South Africa could lead Fifa to move the 2010 World Cup elsewhere, the UN adviser on sport has said. At least 56 people died and up to 100 000 were displaced when mobs armed with clubs, knives and stones rampaged through shantytowns in Johannesburg, Cape Town and other parts of South Africa this month. "The images from South Africa were horrible. They're putting an enormous strain on the soccer World Cup," Willi Lemke, the UN Special Adviser on Sport, told Reuters. He said he hoped the incidents were a lone outbreak of violence. "But if the scenes repeat themselves, Fifa will rethink its decision in favour of South Africa and, if necessary, pull the plug," Lemke said. Fifa, world soccer's ruling body, has expressed its concern about the attacks on immigrants but said the violence would not impact on the 2010 World Cup. The attacks have raised concerns about the high crime rate in South Africa and the potential risk to foreign fans who attend the tournament in 2010. Fifa president Sepp Blatter said on Tuesday that although the violent incidents had been discussed by the Fifa executive board, they were confident the situation was under control. Lemke said he would travel to South Africa next month to take part in a conference on how, through sport, to stop young people turning to crime. "I will hear about how preparations for the Cup are moving forward," he said. "The issue of xenophobia will be a question that needs to be answered." UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon appointed Lemke as special adviser on sport for development and peace in March. Lemke, a politician from Bremen, Germany, was business manager of the Werder Bremen soccer club from 1981 to 1999. He praised the decision to hold the World Cup in Africa. "This boosts people's self-confidence and that's what they need, given all the problems they are facing there. "It would therefore be fatal if Fifa came to the conclusion that South Africa won't be able to make it in time," he said.