I've just had an interesting meeting with a man who runs a big private security company in South Africa. He's looking after one foreign football team, and many VIPs, during the World Cup. For a variety of reasons he didn't want his name to be mentioned, but here are some of the main observations he made about the upcoming tournament, and South Africa in general.
- Many foreign security advisors are vastly exaggerating, or misreading the security situation in South Africa. "It's not Congo here," he said. "These guys want Uzi machine guns on every bus and we say: 'Are you mad? You don't need heavy weapons here.'"
He also noted that some local security companies were playing along with foreign misconceptions in order to boost their profits.
- The country is "absolutely" ready in terms of general match and fan security, although if there is a "big bomb or other terrorist attack," then he's worried that hospitals and other infrastructure wouldn't be able to cope.
- "The hijacking threat will evaporate" during the World Cup, because there will be so many extra police on the streets. He also cited a recent international sporting event for which his company looked after 4,500 foreign fans all around the country without a single instance of crime.
- Visiting fans should be very careful about hiring prostitutes. "They'll be asking for massive problems if they get involved."
- There's a growing realisation among local businesses that "more people are going to lose than win" financially from the World Cup. Only a handful of big firms with close links to Fifa would profit. "It's just not going to be as big as hoped," he said, citing reports like this one.
- He's concerned that those organising the logistics "still don't understand the magnitude of what's coming... we have no clue." There will be plenty of logistical mistakes during the tournament - with transport being a key area of concern - but "nothing big... this is still going to be an unbelievable success for South Africa."
- He's worried about a serious post-tournament hangover, and singled out the "apathy" that afflicts the South African police force. "I'm a proud South African, but apathy might be this country's downfall." He's concerned that the country now stands where Zimbabwe did some 15 years ago. "It starts with potholes. If you can't fix the little things..."