JOHANNESBURG: South Africa wants to assure football fans that they'll be safe at the Confederations Cup in six months, and later at Africa's first World Cup in 2010, despite the country's alarming crime rate.

Organisers are battling to improve South Africa's image to reassure visitors as tickets go on sale next year, and have laid out detailed plans to ward off criminals and hooligans around the stadiums that will host the matches.

"This event is crucial for South Africa," said Danny Jordaan, head of the local organising committee for the games. "It's about country branding," he said, adding that the tournaments were "a unique chance for Africa."

Since South Africa was awarded the World Cup four years ago, critics have roused rampant speculation over the country's readiness to host it -- not least because of the incidence of violent crime, with almost 50 murders a day.

Police are underpaid, under-equipped and morale is low, but deputy police chief Andre Pruis said the force will be boosted to 190,000 officers next year. With 55,000 new recruits, 41,000 officers will be sent for specialised training in crowd control, he said.

British and French police, respected for their anti-riot techniques, have begun training South African officers, Pruis added. An international liaison centre in Pretoria already ensures coordination among the security forces in all the countries participating in the Confed Cup.
Interpol has also help set up a database to help South Africa keep out "undesireable elements." Organisers said their security plan aims to protect visitors to the stadiums, and have no illusions of solving the nation's broader crime problem.

"We're talking about securing the environment, not fighting crime in every house and corner in this country," Jordaan said.