South Africa risks own goal with profiteering

PRETORIA - South Africa's government is appalled by apparent profiteering at this year's World Cup and has appealed to airlines and hotels not to threaten the success of the tournament, the sports minister said on Friday.

Organisers and fans have condemned the high cost of air travel and reports of exhorbitant prices for accommodation during the month-long event that risk scaring off supporters from what South Africa hopes will be a showpiece tournament luring tourists for years to come.

Sports Minister Makhenkesi Stofile said the government was disturbed about plans by many South Africans to use the World Cup - from June 11 to July 11 - to make a quick profit at the expense of the country's image.

"We have consistently appealed to South Africans not to fall into this short-term temptation ... nobody wants to be fleeced like that and ever come back to the country," he told reporters after a monthly cabinet meeting on preparations for the event.

"You may be able to make a quick buck from people who are stranded for accommodation but in the bigger scheme of things you are doing the country a huge injustice ... they will be convinced that we are a bunch of 'groot skelms' (bad criminals)."

Football supporters abroad and in other African countries have complained they cannot afford the high cost of flights and hotel prices, setting off alarm bells among organisers.

Long-haul tickets to South Africa are generally expensive due to a scarcity of seats, while some prices for internal air travel have trebled for the month of the World Cup.

Accommodation prices have increased even more, by three, four or even 10-fold for some luxury digs.

Stofile said hotels had agreed a number of years ago to limit price increases for the tournament but facilities built since then and those not party to deal seemed to be intent on charging excessive prices.

Air travel costs were also of serious concern.

"We enjoin all airlines not to milk the people of South Africa and, indeed, the people of the world only because they are keen to be part of the World Cup," he said.

"It is not right, it is morally incorrect."

The country's competition watchdog last month started a probe of the six major domestic airlines for alleged price fixing during the World Cup.

Transport Minister Sibusiso Ndebele said foreign airlines transporting teams to the country would be allowed to fly internally, and added that 500 buses would be available to transport fans between host cities.