By Ayanda Mhlongo, Mauricio Langa and Sapa

Religious organisations and individuals say they are "appalled" at the proposal by National Police Commissioner Jackie Selebi to legalise prostitution and public drinking in cities hosting the 2010 Soccer World Cup.

Last week Selebi asked the National Assembly to give serious thought on legalising prostitution and drinking in public.

Selebi and his deputy Andre Pruis suggested that host cities for the World Cup have dedicated red-light districts.

He was reported saying that it was inevitable that large numbers of visiting supporters would indulge in prostitution and street drinking and mass arrests would be impractical.

Selebi suggested that there be designated open areas that would be properly policed, where tourists could drink.

He also said that it would not make sense to arrest sex workers plying their trade during the competition, especially as the number of sex workers was expected to increase.

Doctors for Life International described Selebi's suggestion as appalling and they are calling on government to take immediate action against the sexual exploitation of women and children for the 2010 World Cup.

Religious leaders have strongly objected to Selebi's comments, saying that it would add to immoral behaviour and undermine the dignity of women.

The spokesperson for the Southern African Bishops' conference, Father Chris Townsend, said this was an issue that needed more thought and discussion.

"We are still going to live in the country after the World Cup so we must not just change laws," he said.

Ashwin Trikamjee, president of the South African Hindu Maha Sabha, said Selebi was talking out of order, and he should be more worried about the effects crime may have on the World Cup rather than prostitution.

In a survey conducted by the Daily News most of the respondents felt that legalising prostitution and public drinking for the World Cup was not the answer to crime and violence in the country.

Abdul Champion, 48, said that prostitution should not be legalised because it was completely against God's will and was an immoral thing to do.

On the issue of public drinking Champion said that the government should not even think of legalising it because liquor undermined the thinking power of the human being.

"People are known to take the law into their own hands when they are drunk and this will add to violence and crime," he said.

Patrice Nicholas, 51, said it was not a good idea to legalise prostitution because it was a public health issue.

As far as public drinking was concerned, Nicholas said that it was not a major problem except when linked to crime.

For Shanne Vos, 29, the issue of legalising prostitution will set wrong expectations for the country.

"If prostitution is legalised what else are we willing to legalise for the sake of 2010?" said Vos.

She also said that South Africa should stick to the laws of the country and the government "can't just legalise both prostitution and public drinking just for one event".

Meanwhile, Busrha Taha, 22, said there was nothing wrong with having prostitution legalised, but the problem was whether the government would be able to regulate and control the trade.

"If prostitution is legalised will it be safe in terms of protection and health related issues?" questioned Taha.

Yolanda Zamisa, 23, said prostitution deserved to be made legal as the profession had been in existence for many years.

"Making it legal or not, people would still continue to sell their bodies," she said.