CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — South Africa’s police commissioner said Friday his job will be made easier if the United States is knocked out of the World Cup in the first round, avoiding the massive security challenge of a visit by President Barack Obama.
General Bheki Cele told a parliamentary police committee meeting in Cape Town it was “50-50” whether Obama would visit Africa’s first World Cup, but they had been told that if the Americans make the knockout stage of the tournament then Obama might jet in.
“One challenge is the American president, who is coming, not coming, coming, not coming,” Cele said. “It’s 50-50 as we stand.
“Our famous prayer is that the Americans don’t make the second round. (That) they get eliminated and they go home.”
Cele then paused and said “don’t print that” to laughter from the audience that included members of parliament and police officials.
“We are told if they go to the second or third stage, the American president might come,” Cele said. “It’s one big challenge that we will be facing.”
South Africa’s top policeman said he had provisional confirmation that 43 heads of state would go to the World Cup, and “those 43 will be equal to this one operation” if Obama made the trip.
Cele said he had met with a senior FBI official who said he did not know if Obama would travel to the World Cup.
Cele also described to the parliamentary committee how he was summoned to an emergency meeting with FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke on January 27 after the gun attack on the Togo team bus at the African Cup of Nations in Angola earlier that month.
“We were a bit annoyed that they (FIFA) were calling us like schoolboys called by the principal,” Cele said. “But understanding the seriousness of the World Cup we complied and we met the secretary general at (Johannesburg’s) OR Tambo airport.
“The secretary general was almost in tears because of the pressure he was under … and people pushing to withdraw it (the World Cup) from South Africa,” Cele said.
Cele told the committee it was then decided that South African police officials would travel to Zurich to present their plans to security experts from the participating countries.
South Africa’s security forces are still under pressure to protect teams and fans at the June 11-July 11 tournament.
Along with the host country’s high rate of violent crime, there are growing racial tensions in South Africa following the murder of a white supremacist leader last month. Police say the killing of Eugene Terreblanche on April 3 was caused by a wage dispute with two of his black farm workers.
On Thursday, South Africa’s police ministry said it had confiscated a large cache of weapons and arrested suspects linked to right-wing groups.
A spokesman for Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa told The Associated Press that police acting on tips raided sites in the capital Pretoria and a town in the Western Cape and found large caches of explosives, illegal guns and ammunition. The spokesman said there was a “strong linkage to right-wing operations.”
Fears have been raised in South Africa that right-wing groups could target the World Cup. Football is viewed as the sport of black people in South Africa.
Earlier Thursday, Mthethwa referred to the World Cup during his regular budget speech in parliament, saying his forces were prepared for the tournament.
“Our readiness ranges from personnel to state-of the-art equipment, information communication technology and cooperation with the security agencies from the 31 participating countries,” Mthethwa said.
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