Ticket problems could spark riots


LONDON (AP) – A month before Germany opens the World Cup against Costa Rica on June 9, FIFA president Sepp Blatter says organizers are struggling to find solutions to a ticketing problem that could lead to violence outside stadiums and thousands of empty seats inside.

German tournament officials insist that each of the 3 million tickets issued for the 64 games must have the owner’s name on it and that the ticket-holder’s identity must be confirmed by personal identification. FIFA fears that could lead to long lines of frustrated fans waiting to get into the stadiums and little chance of people giving tickets to friends and family.

“The German organizers are in the very uncomfortable situation and, if the German organizers are uncomfortable, then FIFA is also uncomfortable,” Blatter said. “They have weeks to solve this problem, and this is clearly a German problem.”

Blatter spoke with German organizing head Franz Beckenbauer on Friday and plans to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“These are measures taken by a German government who will make sure that the World Cup is safe,” he said. “Even she won’t be able to change anything. We can only put a question mark, “How will it work?’ They have already said they will have turnstiles and will have another one outside for those who are not identified to make them identified.”

All 64 games are sold out for the 32-nation tournament, which runs through July 9. The United States opens June 12 against the Czech Republic.

“The pressure just won’t go away,” organizing committee vice president Wolfgang Niersbach said. “We have 3 million tickets – we need 30 million.”

At the 12 venues, organizers say the leaking roof at Frankfurt’s Commerzbank-Arena and a broken awning at Kaiserslautern’s Fritz-Walter Stadium have been repaired.

“We are doing the fine-tuning now. We feel so confident we can say we will offer the best stadiums in the world,” said Jens Grittner, a spokesman for the German organizers.

The German effort to mount a perfect World Cup once led FIFA general secretary Urs Linsi to tell them to “relax.”

Security, hooligans and prostitution are more serious concerns.

The top police officer in charge of keeping hooligans under control said last week that troublemakers from England and the Netherlands could be secondary.

“What gives me headaches sometimes is thinking about how we are going to keep our own 10,000 hooligans in line,” said Michael Endler, head of ZIS, Germany’s office for sports information. In February, the Germans were embarrassed when 65 people were arrested after their fans rampaged before and during an exhibition win in Slovenia – the worst violence from the country’s hooligans since the 2000 European Championship.

NATO will have AWACS surveillance planes patrolling the skies over Germany during the tournament. Soldiers will be on standby with radiation and chemical warfare detection equipment. And the German government will reimpose national passport checks at borders to minimize the threat of terrorism.

“I have great hope the World Cup will go off without harm,” Deputy Interior Minister August Hanning said last week. “We can’t rule out surprises, but we have taken every precaution.”

Iranian officials are worried that their team could be the target of dissident groups opposed to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his regime.

“They have told us they believe their team could be the victim of a terrorist attack,” German Interior Ministry spokesman Christian Sachs said. “We have no indication anything is planned, but we take this very seriously.”

Another issue is prostitution, which is legal in Germany, where about 400,000 people are registered in the trade. However, an anticipated World Cup sex-trade boom has also raised fears of an increase in forced prostitution with an estimated 40,000 women from poorer Eastern European countries expected to be heading to Germany for the tournament, perhaps some against their will.

Most of the 32 teams will start pre-tournament training camps in the next week or so, after the May 14 deadline for European first divisions to complete play.

Associated Press Writer Roy Kammerer in Berlin contributed to this report.

AP-ES-05-08-06 1548EDT