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SAN DIEGO - Concerns over safety at the World Cup in South Africa have been over-played, says former world No 1 golfer Ernie Els.

SAN DIEGO - Concerns over safety at the World Cup in South Africa have been over-played, says former world No 1 golfer Ernie Els.

Several media reports have slammed the host country's high levels of crime but Els, one of South Africa's best-known sporting figures, felt security had improved considerably in the last decade.

"There are always safety concerns in any country but I don't believe it's to the point where it was (in South Africa) 10 years ago," Els said.

"Ten years ago I would have been a little bit worried but I believe South Africans are standing together now and I think it's going to be one of the best ever (soccer World Cups).

"I was in South Africa for a month's holiday in December and for the first time since the changeover, I felt the positive vibe," added the globe-trotting Els, a keen sports fan who also has homes in United States and Britain.

"I feel that black people, white people, Afrikaans speakers, English speakers, Xhosa speakers, everyone ... we have all become a nation now.

"It's just the spirit of the country right now. I've never seen it better.

"It's almost a generation now since the (democratic) election of 1994 so South Africa has come a long way and people realise how big economically this World Cup is going to be for the country."

Els, a three-times major champion with more than 60 tournaments wins worldwide, felt soccer spectators in June would be impressed by South Africa's infrastructure.

"The venues and stadiums are unbelievable and all the airports have been redone," Els said.

"Rugby is the number one sport for the whites but I think some of them don't know the scale of the football World Cup. This is almost as big as the Olympics.

"The only problem is the World Cup is being played in the winter so people aren't going to really see South Africa in all its glory." - Reuters

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