Stuart Dye at the World Cup
Stuart Dye blogs from the Fifa World Cup

Soccer: Host pays bill for Fifa justice

By Stuart Dye

Inside the courthouse waiting room, three people sit huddled around an electric fire. One of them reads the paper, the other two talk quietly.

They are employed by football's governing body, Fifa, they say, and are in the "Dedicated Court Waiting Room for the Fifa World Cup 2010".

It is where those accused of crime related to the football tournament go to get advice about the legal system before they face the "Dedicated Court for the Fifa World Cup 2010".

It is a judicial experiment which has seen host nation South Africa cede partial control of its legal system to the powerful body which runs the beautiful game.

Some have hailed it an effective solution to the country's crime problems, but others warn it is a dangerous contamination of a supposedly objective judiciary.

Under the new system, 54 courts around the country have been redesignated to supply summary justice to football-related criminals. About 260 prosecutors have been assigned to the task.

At the Magistrate's Court in downtown Johannesburg - a part of the city Fifa's top brass are unlikely to see while they are here - four court rooms have been handed over to Fifa. That is a fraction of the 46 courts within the sprawling, archaic rabbit warren of a building.

Once through the municipal building's security, a sign points to the dedicated courts. A second sign points to the waiting room.

One of the translators hired by Fifa says she has been working there for almost a month on a temporary contract. Since then, she says, no one has faced any of the Fifa courts here.

"It's boring," says the Nigerian woman who doesn't want to give her name but says she got the job because she speaks eight languages.

The four Fifa courts are locked and the translators give directions to the information desk where details of people charged are kept.

The information desk clerk points in the direction of the prosecutor's office because actually, she says, that's where the charge sheets are kept.

A woman sits in that office talking on the phone. A man next to her in a Bafana Bafana tracksuit top is asleep sprawled across two chairs.

"You need to go next door," says the woman.

Next door is locked.

"Then you need to go to the official Fifa waiting room."

This roundabout is, it seems, Fifa justice African-style.

On the evidence of this afternoon, a few hours before South Africa's team Bafana Bafana are to face France, needing a win to stay in the tournament, the threat of justice has been enough to dissuade would-be criminals.

However, horror stories are beginning to emerge from other Fifa courts.

Sentences of up to 15 years imprisonment, mostly to foreigners, have apparently been handed down in trials as short as 20 minutes.

In the most controversial case, two Dutch women were charged with "ambush marketing".

They were arrested after 36 young blondes were spotted in the stands at a World Cup match, wearing the bright orange minidresses of a Dutch brewer, Bavaria.

The brewer's logo was barely visible, but the women, Barbara Castelein and Minte Immy Nieuwpoort, were accused of violating the monopoly of the official sponsors. They could have faced six months in prison but were released after a deal was struck between Fifa and the brewing giant and loud complaints from the Netherlands foreign minister who slammed the arrests as "disproportionate".

Before they left South Africa the women said: "We are happy to go home and that the situation has been resolved."

Bavaria may have been happy too. Publicity surrounding the arrests made, which previously had no measurable traffic, the fifth most visited beer website in Britain last Tuesday behind Carling, Cobra, official World Cup beer sponsor Budweiser and Carlsberg, according to the online intelligence service Experian Hitwise.

In an equally bizarre case, the special courts have scheduled a trial for a British fan who stumbled into the dressing room of the England soccer team while he was searching for a toilet.

The fan, 32-year-old Pavlos Joseph, said a stadium steward had pointed him in the direction of a tunnel at Green Point stadium when he was seeking a toilet after a goalless draw between England and Algeria last Friday in Cape Town.

Perhaps a more typical case involved a Soweto man who stole two cans of Coke, two mini cans of soda water, and one mini can of lemonade from a corporate hospitality lounge. He admitted guilt and paid a fine.

The system gives a taste of how much influence Fifa has over South Africa in the presentation of the 2010 World Cup.

Fifa has made a huge deal of bringing the competition to African soil for the first time. That it fails to run smoothly is unthinkable.

It is often said of Johannesburg that no one knows where it begins or ends and where the next area starts.

There's a similar blurring of the lines with Fifa and Africa.

The tourists stay inside Fifa World Cup villages; gated compounds with guards at every entrance asking for identification. They walk through airport-type security detectors to get in and, once inside, the bars, big screens and eateries could be anywhere in the world.

It's a pocket of Fifa within South Africa. The giant stadiums are the same with only the sound of the vuvzelas a reminder that this country has its own voice.

Outside of Fifa-sanctioned areas lies a different World Cup.

The roads are chaotic. Cars with flags sticking out of windows or attached to aerials or wing mirrors crawl along bumper-to-bumper around the city.

Road rules are guidelines to be disregarded at will.

At every set of lights hordes of street hawkers surround cars selling everything from flags and scarves to socks and sunglasses. Most popular are those selling ear plugs to block the noise of the vuvzelas.

Both Africa and Fifa will reap financial rewards from this festival of football.

But it is quickly becoming apparent who will be the biggest winner.

The great hope and expectation are collapsing as fast as South Africa's exit from the competition.

Erwin Rode, chief executive of property services firm Rode Associates, told Johannesburg's largest daily newspaper The Star that the World Cup was "going to be a damp squib" for those who had expected miracles.

Some hotels are predicted to go bust when the tournament ends as the anticipated long-term spin-off fails to materialise. Hopes of a boon for the residential housing market have also fallen flat with analysts now expecting property values to remain static. About a quarter of the population remain unemployed.

In fact, it is short-term gains that are the main benefit now.

Half a million tourists arrived in the country in the fortnight before the competition kicked off. Street vendors are earning twice as much as usual, selling flags and vuvzelas instead of art and clothing.

Fifa, meanwhile, will walk away from Africa with an estimated US$3.2 billion ($4.48 billion).

Despite that, the country remains upbeat about a legacy effect from the World Cup. Roads and a rail system have been built in Johannesburg and there has been other infrastructure investment including a widespread bus network. Forty-thousand new police are on the streets and their jobs are safe after the World Cup ends.

This is money from South African coffers, but the hope is the improvements and exposure will help make the nation more attractive in future.

"South Africa will never be the same again after this 2010 World Cup," President Jacob Zuma said in Johannesburg this week.

"We view the tournament not as an end in itself, but as a catalyst for development whose benefits will be felt long after the final whistle."

That is the hope, but the reality may be different.

Back at Johannesburg Magistrate's Court, the Nigerian translator heads back to the official Fifa waiting room. The other two have not moved, though one of them is now sleeping.

What will she do once her Fifa contract expires?

"I don't know. I have languages but I couldn't get a job before. After this we don't know what we will be doing."

- NZ Herald

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