Regardless of the outcome of the World Cup soccer tournament in Germany several weeks away, the games already have their place in history: Never before have fans attending an event organized by the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) been required to provide so much information about themselves that can be accessed so quickly.
More than 3.5 million tickets will be sold with an embedded RFID (radio frequency identification) chip containing identification information, to be checked against a database as fans pass through entrance gates at all 12 stadiums in June.
It's the first World Cup tournament to use RFID technology to identify cardholders, and it's not likely to be the last. But, if one senior FIFA official has his way, the amount of personal information required of fans -- all of which is quickly identifiable with the help of RFID -- will be kept to a minimum.
"The absolute control of soccer fans is new; it doesn't fit their mentality," said FIFA Secretary General Urs Linsi in an interview with the German daily newspaper Tagesspiegel earlier this week in comments confirmed by IDG News Service. "I've learned a lesson: At the next tournament, we won't store as much data as the Germans."
Organizers of the games in Germany, the 2006 FIFA World Cup Organizing Committee, have required fans to provide a wealth of personal data when applying for cards online, including name, address, date of birth, nationality, number of ID card or passport and bank or credit card data. The need for so much information, they say, is to help prevent black marketing and keep hooligans, rioters and other troublemakers out of stadiums.
Security is a high priority at the games. It's mandated by FIFA and is being eagerly supported by the German government, which was devastated by the terrorist attack on Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich.
The organizing committee remains mum, however, about what information will be available on the smart tag. "No private data will be stored on the chip," a spokesman said in an e-mail. "Only unique particulars concerning registration and tournament information will be stored on the chip."
Rumors have been afloat that security officials equipped with portable RFID scanning devices will be monitoring fans inside the stadiums. Several of the World Cup stadiums, including the Allianz Arena in Munich, are equipped with RFID indoors, in addition to the gates.
The organizing committee says there will be no such in-stadium surveillance. "Special machines will be set at the gates to read the chips," the spokesman said. "Chips won't be tracked anywhere else."
The committee points to several reasons why it chose to issue tickets with RFID tags instead of widely used bar code. The chips "improve customer service and make security measures scalable," the spokesman said. Since every ticket is unique, lost tickets can be easily blocked, he added. Chips also make the tickets forge proof.
"The organizing committee had good intentions: Tickets were to be embedded with a chip containing personal information to prevent black marketing," Linsi said. "That's where the trouble began."
Whether or not FIFA will use RFID at the next World Cup tournament in 2010 is unclear. "It's simply too early to answer that question," a spokesman for FIFA in Switzerland said in an e-mail.