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Jan 17, 2006

FIFA insists World Cup venues are perfectly safe

FRANKFURT, Jan 17 (Reuters) - FIFA sought to allay concerns on Tuesday that fans would be at risk at this year's World Cup in Germany and tournament organisers demanded the withdrawal of a consumer group report critical of stadium safety.

Germany's Stiftung Warentest, respected for its ratings of consumer products, said in a report last week that crowds could be crushed in the event of a stampede at three match venues and was heavily critical of fire safety at a fourth.

Soccer's world governing body FIFA said it took the report seriously, but was nevertheless surprised by its findings as it had made its own inspections.

'For our standpoint, the stadiums are excellent,' Jim Brown, FIFA's director of competitions, told a joint news conference with World Cup organisers.

Stiftung Warentest said the stadiums at Gelsenkirchen, Leipzig and final venue Berlin were unprepared for evacuation as there were no exits on to the pitch and Kaiserslautern, where cracks were found in a stand last month, was a fire hazard.

Organisers said the study was unfair, superficial and had seriously damaged Germany's reputation abroad, adding that all the 12 stadiums had passed stringent safety tests.

'We demand Stiftung Warentest withdraw the red cards for Kaiserslautern, Gelsenkirchen, Berlin and Leipzig,' said the vice president of the organising committee, Horst Schmidt.

'Our stadiums are not only safe, but exemplary... We have an absolutely clear conscience,' he added.

Schmidt said the consumer group's experts had paid the stadiums only brief visits and had not raised safety issues with the stadium's operators or with local fire safety authorities.

Tour organisers reiterated modern stadium design steered crowds outside, rather than on to the pitch as demanded by Warentest, in the event of mass panic.

Germany has spent around 1.5 billion euros ($1.81 billion) building or renovating 12 stadiums for the World Cup that begins in the new Munich stadium on June 9 and ends in Berlin on July 9.