OC demands withdrawal of 'red cards'
The 2006 FIFA World Cup Organising Committee (OC) has completed its review of the detailed responses provided by the 12 FIFA World Cup stadium authorities, following alleged defects and criticisms listed in a study released and simultaneously published on 10 January 2006 by the German Consumers' Foundation (Stiftung Warentest). The OC has also consulted a variety of specialists to establish whether the deficiencies listed by the Consumers' Founda-tion were accurate and tenable.
The review has concluded that the Consumers' Foundation report was wholly superficial and negligent. In particular, the OC finds the headline conclusion, "Four red cards", to be irresponsible. "We call upon the Consumers' Foundation to withdraw the four red cards awarded to the stadiums in Kaiserslautern, Gelsenkirchen, Berlin and Leipzig. This fully erroneous verdict has created an image of the stadiums both at home and abroad which in no way corresponds to the high safety standards at the stadiums. We regard the entire Consumers' Foundation study as questionable, as it takes no account of the complexity of the topic of safety, nor the overall circumstances and the fundamental conceptual framework. Highlighting conclusions in isolation in this sensitive area cannot be described as objective, especially without appreciating the context or acknowledging individual local circumstances," commented OC senior vice-president Horst R. Schmidt (Photo).
"We have at all times demonstrated full co-operation with the Consumers' Foundation. The OC and the stadium authorities are grateful for all constructive advice helping to optimise structural and organisational measures at the stadiums. However, we have an absolutely clear conscience, because we have done everything humanly possible for safety, with extreme care and attention to detail, including safety measures in the event of mass panic," Schmidt continued.
The OC demand relates to the fact that the Consumers' Foundation verdict was based on at least partially erroneous findings, and equally false conclusions drawn from these findings. The investigation of the alleged defects identified by the Consumers' Foundation has been carried out in continual and close liaison with the stadium authorities.
Consumers' Foundation representatives carried out stadium visits between 19 September 2005 (Dortmund) and 27 October 2005 (Hanover). According to the stadium authorities, each visit lasted between four and eight hours. Each visit included a meeting to work through a standard questionnaire, and a tour of different areas of the stadium. The Foundation delegation normally comprised three persons: A member of the "test" magazine editorial staff, and two further persons, not identified by name. No information was provided as to their specialist qualifications. This may well be standard procedure for Consumer Foundation tests, but may nonetheless be regarded as out of the ordinary. The stadium authorities were represented by managers, sometimes augmented by specialist technical staff.
Following the visits, the stadium operators were circulated with a key data sheet entitled "service provider pre-information for review purposes", with a request to check the data. However, the information was only concerned with general capacities, quantities etc, and not qualitative evaluations. In particular, the document contained no special supplementary questions regarding existing fire prevention concepts and/or pre-determined evacuation routes. Offers to initiate contact with local authorities (planning department, fire prevention department) and Police and Fire Brigade specialists, were not taken up.
Furthermore, the Foundation ignored certain specific remarks. For example, the authorities in Kaiserslautern requested a visit in November 2005 rather than October, as construction work was still in progress. The authorities in Hamburg requested the foundation avoid the period directly preceding Germany's international with China. As of today, the stadium authorities still have not received any detailed report from the Consumers' Foundation. The authorities merely have access to the same information released to the media. Despite official requests, both from the Organising Committee and from individual stadium authorities, the Consumers' Foundation continues to refuse to provide complete reports and/or more extensive information to support its conclusions. The Foundation is only prepared "to answer totally specific questions."
The Consumers' Foundation evaluated the stadiums in Berlin, Gelsenkirchen and Leipzig as "defective", under the heading "risk of crushing", due to lack of evacuation routes onto the pitch/stadium interior. According to the study, "in a mass panic, the direction of movement from the stands is always downwards towards the playing field." However, this is merely a theoretical opinion rejected by renowned experts and qualified assessors.
Every stadium incorporates effective and approved emergency plans with evacuation routes leading outwards, fundamentally based on federal regulations relating to places of assembly.
Commented Professor Dietmar Hosser of Brunswick Technical University, one of Germany's leading fire prevention experts: "All the World Cup stadiums and arenas are multi-functional and designed for a variety of uses. Emergency escape routes therefore had to be conceived in such a way as to be suitable and sufficient for all uses and all potential risk situations. Furthermore, federal regulations relating to places of assembly as agreed by the Conference of Planning Ministers, and corresponding regulations issued by the federal states, incorporate measures which were drawn up on the basis of decades-long experience, especially with regard to fire risk, and also comply with FIFA's specific experience with football stadiums. The regulations fundamentally call for evacuation from the stadium interior via independent escape routes to exterior exits."
"The maximum length of the primary escape route from the interior, depending on the height of the structure (taking account of the effects of smoke in the case of fire) lies between 30 metres and 60 metres. For seats in the stands, the only feasible solution is a route from the seating rows via the steps to the openings into the stands, and subsequently via the foyer to the external exits or the stairwells. Considerably longer routes across the playing field are rendered unnecessary, and may even be regarded in a critical light, given the numerous and sufficiently large escape routes via the terracing steps. The primary escape route will only lead to an exit at playing field level for members of the audience seated on the playing field at concerts, musicals or operatic events."
"This evacuation route model has not led to any serious incident in any place of as-sembly, including all older and newer football stadiums, in recent decades. The alleged relevance of panic situations and spontaneous attempts to evacuate onto the pitch is based on examples drawn from abroad (Brussels and Sheffield), but is absolutely not applicable to our modern FIFA World Cup stadiums and arenas, which consciously avoid the use of standing terrace blocks, and fundamentally rule out the risk of crushing in a forward direction thanks to the seat row arrangement. Once spectators have left their seating rows, they will naturally choose the route they followed to reach their seats, a direct path using the steps (which broaden the higher they go), to an opening leading to the foyer, where a risk of crushing is proven not to exist."
The twelve 2006 FIFA World Cup stadiums were planned and constructed over a period lasting several years. Often, the process of obtaining the requisite approvals lasted equally long. General safety standards, and in particular fire prevention regulations, are more stringent in Germany than many other countries. In this respect, the OC and the 12 stadium authorities cannot easily comprehend how anyone could gain a complete overview of such a complicated and complex topic in such a short period of time. The phrase in the study implying defects in planning law and relevant fire prevention regulations, a reference to "the latest technological and scientific knowledge", totally unjustifiably calls into question the relevant authorities' competence, especially as this so-called knowledge is not defined.
The OC and the 12 stadium authorities are always open to constructive suggestions towards improving standards, and take utterly seriously any information relating to spectator safety. "However, there has been no constructive dialogue in this instance, especially with regard to the overall evaluation, which the OC and the twelve stadiums consider to be clearly erroneous," declared Horst R. Schmidt.
The review and conclusions have the explicit support of the German Football League (DFL) and will be presented in this form to the German Parliamentary Select Committee for Sport at its meeting on 18 January 2006.