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FRANCE '98 / 4 DAYS UNTIL THE WORLD CUP

En Garde!

Hoping for Best but Preparing for Worst, France 98 Organizers Have Mounted Massive Global Security Effort to Cope With Everything From Unruly Fans to Terrorists

June 06, 1998|HELENE ELLIOTT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PARIS — Pele, probably the greatest player ever to grace a soccer field, often calls soccer "the beautiful game." To keep the game's biggest showcase from turning ugly, organizers of France 98 have planned a massive security effort that will marshal the efforts of law enforcement officials from around the world during the 33 days of the 16th World Cup tournament.

On the eve of the June 10 opener between defending champion Brazil and Scotland at Stade de France in Saint-Denis, World Cup officials faced a number of monumental headaches. Among them were a strike by Air France pilots and possible slowdowns by railroad workers and truck drivers. But the most ominous clouds are the potential for thuggery by ticketless fans and attacks by terrorists seeking global attention for their causes.

"Our biggest security concern this year is undoubtedly terrorism," said Walter Gagg, head of security for FIFA, soccer's international governing body. "The terrorists know there is no bigger platform for them than the World Cup."

Six thousand police officers, including riot troops, will be on the streets to safeguard an expected influx of 800,000 tourists. Extra police and army units have begun patrolling Paris and the nine other cities that will host the 64 games in the 32-team tournament. Plans call for 7,000 police officers to guard the stadiums and nearly 2,000 soldiers to patrol major tourist spots. More than 5,000 police officers will be on duty for the "Football Festival" to be held in Paris the night before Wednesday's opener.

"The World Cup should be first and foremost a party, but to make sure it's a success, security will be fundamental," said Jean-Pierre Chevenement, the French Interior Minister.

Unlike the 1994 World Cup, held in the United States, France doesn't have natural barriers such as the Atlantic and Pacific oceans to deter mischief-makers or political dissidents from spoiling the festivities. The United States' relative isolation from countries where hooligans are infamous for vandalism and violence helps explain why fewer than 100 arrests were recorded during the 1994 tournament, and most of those were for minor offenses.

"We had virtually no incidents of any kind in the stadiums. We had plans for various contingencies, but day after day we'd get the police reports and all we'd see was stuff like selling illegal merchandise or scalping tickets," said Alan Rothenberg, the president and chief executive officer of World Cup USA '94 and president of the U.S. Soccer Federation.

"It was rare for us to see anything worse than people being drunk and disorderly. And even then, it was comparable to a Sunday afternoon NFL game, maybe two dozen or so. The atmosphere was spectacular.

"We had said all along to FIFA our fans are not rowdy. We told them our fans are typically a family of four, a husband, wife and two kids. Probably because of geography, the tickets were the least expensive part [of attending games]. It was more an upper-middle class group that came over. That's different, unfortunately, than what you're going to see in France."

French officials are prepared for the worst and hoping for the best.

Wednesday, police uncovered a fundamentalist Islamic guerrilla network and arrested three men in early-morning raids. Less than two weeks earlier, police in five countries had rounded up 88 people they feared were planning terrorist attacks in the days before the tournament. An especially violent Algerian faction, the Armed Islamic Group, was the focus of the operation.

A few weeks before that, police found in northern Paris a bomb similar to those used in a series of attacks that killed 12 people in France in 1995 and 1996, incidents for which Islamic militants claimed responsibility. And in March, a raid on suspected Muslim fundamentalists in Belgium uncovered liquid explosives and World Cup brochures, raising suspicions the tournament was their target.

Thousands of police officers have undergone special training, and anti-terrorist squads have been rehearsing for the possibility of being called into action. In addition, mine-clearing specialists will be on 24-hour call.

The responsibility of providing security will be shared by the World Cup organizing committee, which budgeted 100 million French francs (about $16.6 million) for that purpose, and the French government.

Action in each stadium will be monitored by closed-circuit television. Following a plan deployed in Britain for the 1996 European championships, which were unmarred by trouble, teams of stewards--professional security guards and volunteers--will ensure those holding tickets are the legitimate owners of each seat. Each ticket has the purchaser's name on it to preclude scalping, and tickets were to be mailed to purchasers shortly before each game to minimize the opportunity to manufacture counterfeits. No one whose name is not on a ticket is supposed to be admitted to the stadium.

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