Three Greek World Cup players had money stolen from their hotel rooms and Chinese journalists were robbed at gunpoint, officials say. Another 11 tourists were robbed of passports and luxury goods while visiting a wine farm near Cape Town, adding to several separate incidents against tourists less than 24 hours ahead of the opening match between host nation South Africa and Mexico.
The incidents in the crime-plagued host country follow the armed robbery of Spanish and Portuguese journalists at a lodge north of Johannesburg on Wednesday. South Africa, which has spent heavily on security, has been hoping the World Cup would boost its tourism sector and provide a jolt of pride for the continent but experts say persistent reports of crime could undermine those aspirations.
Greek team spokesman Michael Tsapidis said the players were not upset by the theft at the Beverly Hills Hotel in Durban and they were “extremely satisfied” with the way the hotel had responded to the incident, Reuters reports. “In our opinion this is not such a big deal. This incident is something that could happen anywhere in the world,” he told a news conference.
The three Chinese journalists has been in the country for a few hours and were on their way to the main venue for the Cup in Soccer City on the edge of Soweto, a sprawling township outside of Johannesburg, the local paper Beeld reported citing various sources. They stopped on the side of the road when gunmen approached and stole equipment from their vehicle, it said. Chinese embassy officials confirmed the robbery but offered few details. South Africa police said the incident has not been officially reported and were looking into the case.
Petty theft is a fact of life in South Africa, a country of that averages 50 murders a day.
Police said a group of tourists from Canada, Denmark, Finland, Sweden and Tanzania returned to their bus at a visit to a wine estate outside Cape Town to find nine passports, two digital cameras, a laptop and $500 cash missing. A case of theft had been opened, a statement said.
FIFA said on Thursday three arrests had been made for the armed robbery of Spanish and Portuguese journalists at a lodge in Magaliesburg, a scenic town about an hour north of Johannesburg, and all the stolen property had been recovered. The thieves made off with cameras, computers, credit cards and cash. The FIFA spokesman played down the incident, saying the soccer body’s main concern was traffic chaos.
Police bolstered their presence in the Magaliesburg, where the Portugal squad base and police chief Bheki Cele visited the area on Thursday to express regret over the matter, a statement said. “General Cele assured the group that all plans for a safe World Cup were still on track and he was confident that South Africans and fans alike will have a fantastic time over the next month,” the statement said. But travelling journalists including one held at gunpoint were angry at FIFA for not showing greater concern for their safety. “It’s just ridiculous, a total lack of respect for people who have come here to work, to show this country to the whole world,” said photographer Antonio Simoes who was robbed in his room at the lodge at gunpoint.
The raided hotel now has several police officers patrolling the grounds around the clock and almost all the other hotels have police or private security protecting journalists. “FIFA saying it was more concerned with traffic than someone being attacked in a hotel room with a gun to their head does not dignify the institution and the organisation in any way,” Paulo Guerrinha, a reporter for the Portuguese internet portal Sapo, told Reuters. “A situation like this cannot be devalued like it has been,” he said.