JOHANNESBURG — Doomsday scenarios seem to go hand-in-hand with mega events like the World Cup, and concern was even deeper than usual heading into the tournament in South Africa.
This a country best known for the brutality of its apartheid past, and a future clouded by high rates of crime and poverty. Beyond that, South Africa was a distant and little-understood destination to tens of thousands of World Cup visitors from Europe and the United States — making it all too easy to fill in the gaps with speculation about race wars and terror attacks, and to believe warnings that tourists would need to rent stab-proof vests before venturing from the airports.
With two games still to go — today's third-place game and Sunday's final — those doomsday fears have faded. South Africa is being praised as a warm and capable host, and even a possible Olympic candidate — assuming all goes well at the final on Sunday at Soccer City.
Jorge Santos, a 26-year-old Brazil fan from Rio de Janeiro, was among those who braved the trip and lived to tell the tale:
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"I didn't get mugged," he said as he strolled through an upscale Johannesburg shopping center between matches. "My experience here was way better than expected."
Crime — armed robberies, carjackings and even murder — was a major concern.
Most of the country's crime, though, pits the poorest of South Africans against other poor South Africans. Police said they did not expect tourists to be targets, but they took no chances. Leaves were canceled, 40,000 new officers hired and recruits taken out of academies for temporary duty to ensure enough staffing to keep World Cup fans safe.
Fikile Mbalula, South Africa's deputy police minister, said the country can now celebrate.
"You have fought a war and won it on the basis of the feeling that this thing is going to be a failure," Mbalula said Friday at a public debate on the legacy of the World Cup.
If anything, officials have been criticized for taking too hard a line on law and order. Special courts established to expedite cases during the World Cup have handed down strikingly harsh sentences.
In one case, five hotel maids convicted of pilfering football shirts, a medal and underwear from members of the England team were given three years in prison and fined 6,000 rand (about $800). Such sentences, especially coming as they did while the games were still on, were meant as deterrents. Some may be lessened on appeal.
Race and violent crime may be particularly South African issues. In at least one other area, South Africa was part of a global trend — fears that human trafficking spikes during events like the World Cup and the Olympics. There were claims 40,000 prostitutes would be brought to South Africa during the World Cup. The same figure had been cited four years ago in speculation about increased trafficking in Germany before the last World Cup.
"There is no empirical evidence that large-scale sporting events lead to an increase in human trafficking," researchers from South Africa's Forced Migration Studies Program said in a June report.