DURBAN, South Africa Ã¢â‚¬â€ Police fired rubber bullets and stun grenades to break up a protest by hundreds of stadium staff unhappy at their wages on Monday in the first major unrest of the football World Cup.
As organisers promised to investigate why thousands of seats were empty at weekend matches, they also struggled to contain a backlash against the din generated by the vuvuzela horns which have become the symbol of the tournament.
Danny Jordaan, chairman of the local organising committee, said he would consider banning the horns if they drowned out national anthems although a spokesman later said they were here to stay.
Champions Italy meanwhile were beginning their defence of the trophy with an evening match against Paraguay in Cape Town while the highly fancied Dutch were to play Denmark in Johannesburg.
The protests in Durban broke out around midnight after the match between Germany and Australia as around 400 stadium staff protested what they said was a pay cut from 250 rand (33 dollars) to 190 per day outside the main gate.
“They were unhappy about the wages they were getting from their employers, so they started getting unruly,” police spokeswoman Phindile Radebe told AFP.
Police broke up the protest at the stadium, but about 200 continued protesting on a nearby street, where rubber bullets and stun grenades were fired to break up the demonstration, she said.
“No one has been arrested so far,” she added, adding that the fans had already left the stadium when the protest broke out.
Durban municipality, which owns the stadium, said that the stewarding at the stadium had been subcontracted by FIFA and the local organising committee to another company.
“The LOC and FIFA are responsible for all elements of the operation and management of the stadium and the appointment of all stadium service providers and employees for the period of the World Cup,” it said in a statement.
The tournament was also facing a raft of negative headlines over ranks of empty seats which were spotted at some of the less glamorous ties over the weekend.
Around 8,000 seats were empty during Saturday’s match between South Korea and Greece while there were also gaping holes at Sunday’s game between Slovenia and Algeria in the northern city of Polokwane.
A spokesman for the local organising committee said that most of the tickets had been sold but many people just had not turned up.
“We have no clue what happened — tickets had been issued,” Rich Mkhondo told the Johannesburg-based newspaper The Times.
While around 3,000 tickets went unsold, another 8,000 corporate ticket holders failed to show.
“We are investigating who these companies are, why those tickets were not distributed to their owners or why those owners did not make it to the stadiums,” he said.
Mkhondo also tried to slap down down any suggestion that the vuvuzela horns could be banned after yet more complaints about the noise they are generating.
“We just ask that people use them wisely and keep quiet when asked to do so during the singing of national anthems and the delivery of speeches,” he said.
Asked if a ban was an option, local organising committee Danny Jordaan told the BBC: “If there are grounds to do so, yes.”
Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo was the latest World Cup star to voice unease about the trumpet, telling reporters that it affected players’ focus.
“It is difficult for anyone on the pitch to concentrate,” the Real Madrid star told a press conference.
“A lot of players don’t like them, but they are going to have to get used to them.”
Makers of the plastic horns meanwhile said they had come up with a toned-down version.
“We have modified the mouthpiece, there is now a new vuvuzela which will blow noise that is 20 decibels less than the old one,” Neil van Schalkwyk, a partner at Masincedane Sport, told The Star newspaper.
“We hope to sell these at park and ride areas and public viewing areas,” added Van Schalkwyk, whose company owns the vuvuzela trademark.