Fake World Cup jerseys hit S.African streets

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The Independent Football

One month before the World Cup kick-off, fake jerseys and souvenirs have swamped South Africa's streets, despite a clampdown on bogus goods coming mainly from Asia.

Knock-off jerseys for the national team Bafana Bafana, England, Brazil and Spain are sold freely on the streets, as vendors openly tout for customers while dodging police.

"There has been a marked surge in fake football merchandise. Most of the items seized are manufactured in Asia," said Mohamed Khader from Spoor and Fisher, a law firm representing FIFA.

Since the beginning of the year, customs authorities have confiscated over 100 million rands (13 million dollars, 10 million euros) worth of counterfeit football apparel coming mainly from China and other Asian countries.

According to FIFA lawyers, over 100 cases involving counterfeit World Cup goods had been brought to court since January.

That hasn't deterred vendors in downtown Johannesburg, the country's business hub, where stalls brandish different national jerseys dangling from hangers.

Fake jerseys for England or Brazil go for 250 rand (33 dollars, 25 euros) on the streets, while the authentic shirts sell for 600 rand.

Street-savvy vendors evade police raids by peddling their wares at busy intersections, enticing passing drivers and pedestrians.

"I won't tell you where I got my stock from but I can tell you that there is a big demand for all jerseys right now," said a vendor in Alexandra township, north of Johannesburg.

"Selling the jerseys has put money in my pocket. I know of people who have been arrested for doing this job but it is worth taking a chance," said the man, who did not want to give his name.

Khader said Adidas, which is kitting out many of the teams, was hit the hardest by cheap imitations.

"In some case these fake products are passed on as the real thing. Consumers must be very careful about what they are buying. Big brands like Adidas are not spared," said Khader.

He warned consumers to look out for finer details of the product, like the quality of the fabric and logos before buying.

According to the Counterfeit Goods Act, conviction for fake goods trade is punishable by a three-year jail term or a 5,000 rand fine per item found in possession.

FIFA-branded memorabilia - like hats, T-shirts and the green-haired official mascot Zakumi - are among the most sought-after items on the black market.

The host nation's gold and green jersey has also become particularly popular as the world's biggest sporting tournament draws closer.

Demand for Bafana Bafana jerseys has skyrocketed since September, when the Football Friday initiative was launched to encourage locals to show their support for the team by wearing the jersey on Fridays.

While FIFA frets over the fake goods, the official merchandise has raised the ire of unions who complain that the multi-coloured national flags and the Zakumi mascot are made in China.

The country's largest union federation, Cosatu, says outsourcing from foreign firms deprived locals of jobs.

In February, reports of the mascot being produced in a Chinese sweatshop employing children rocked FIFA, prompting an investigation into the factory's work conditions and a temporary suspension of its production.

Cosatu, spokesman Patrick Craven said the union would encourage the South African public to boycott any World Cup goods not produced locally.

"Local companies have lost out, Chinese companies have emerged as big winners. We will be telling the people to only buy what is made in South Africa," Craven told AFP.