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Worlds Organizer Says Everything’s Fine In SA

June 16, 2010 by  

Pietermaritzburg, South Africa - Site of the 2010 UCI BMX World Championships

In the hopes of allaying security fears on the part of participants heading to South Africa for the 2010 UCI BMX World Championships next month, the Organizing Committee of the event issued a statement addressing these concerns directly. LOC head, Alec Lenferna, went on-record, saying:

“There is absolutely no reason for any BMX rider to be concerned about their safety traveling to South Africa for the Worlds. The event is being held in one of the safest areas of the country, and there are more than adequate security measures at the venue and in the city, where over 80% of the riders will be staying.”

He continued: “Pietermaritzburg was recently voted the second best city in the country to live in in a major online poll, taking factors such as standards of living, safety and security.”

“Of course there will be individual incidents where careless tourists become victims of crime, but to be honest that is a blunt reality that could happen anywhere in the world,” Lenferna added.

On June 9, BMX NEWS editors posted a thread on VintageBMX.com, seeking comment on a story carried by CNN, of armed bandits storming the hotel rooms of journalists who were in South Africa ahead of the start of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, widely known as the largest sporting event in the world.

Whether pointing directly at the Vintage post, or citing additional reports on the topic, the release continued, saying:

“The event organisers (are) responding to blog comments casting the 2010 UCI World Championships in South Africa in a negative light based on isolated crime reports from World Cup, encouraging riders not to attend the event.

“It’s ironic that the one incident that has been the focus of much of the blog activity has not been completely reported,” Lenferna added, referring to the robbery of three journalists at a Magaliesberg guesthouse last week.”

The release went on to talk about how the perpetrators of the robbery in the CNN piece were apprehended, and ushered into a speedy trial, where they were convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison. It also made a point to make everyone aware of the heightened security measures taken by the SA government ahead of and during the World Cup:

Hundreds of thousands of soccer fans have flocked to South Africa for the FIFA 2010 Soccer World Cup during the past week, with hardly any criminal incidents being reported to the police in that period.

In anticipation of the influx of sporting tourists, security measures in all major centres and at transport hubs such as airports have been substantially reinforced, with a significantly heightened security presence visible across the country.

Speaking only for ourselves, it was certainly not our intent to cast the event, or South Africa, in a negative light, nor to discourage people from attending.

We were/are not saying “stay away.” We ARE saying “be extra-conscious of your surroundings.” No question, this can be said of certain areas in any major metro area in the world, Chicago, LA and, yes, Pietermaritzburg included. And you can be sure that when the Worlds come to Chicago someday, we’ll tell you precisely where NOT to go (it is often simply a matter of a block or two between good and evil, and you’d never know it until it was too late, if not warned in advance).

Most, if not all, of the BMXers traveling with Team USA are veteran travelers, who have long experience in sniffing out, and avoiding, any local drama (stories of the Worlds in Brazil last decade are the most intriguing). We’re confident those globetrotters have all their details dialed in. But there are a few points to consider for first timers heading down there:

-The release talks a lot about heightened security as part of the World Cup. The world cup ends on July 11. BMXers will start arriving two weeks later. Thus, it is worth considering that, after a month on high alert, security forces may be standing down, breathing a sigh of relief and rubbing their eyes, just as BMXers start to land.

-The US State Department Issued a Travel Alert to Americans traveling to South Africa for the World Cup. That document makes no mention of Pietermaritzburg as a city of concern, which is encouraging, but it is definitely worth reading for anyone traveling there.

As part of the State Department’s advisory, they list all the information on the US Embassy in the Executive Capitol of Pretoria, as well as U.S. Consulates General in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durbin. Also on that page is an excellent travel tips page called “A Safe Trip Abroad.”

BMXNEWS wants Americans to go boldly into their trip to the worlds, with a clear head, and bring back as many W1 plates as possible for the USA. There are about 40 days between now and when you are “wheels up” to Maritzburg. All we’re saying is use that time to do some planning, and never say “It can’t happen to me.”

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