THE COMMONWEALTH GAMES IN DURBAN – GOOD OR BAD FOR SOUTH AFRICA?
The announcement last week that the hosting of the 2022 Commonwealth Games was awarded to Durban was in certain circles met with celebrations in certain circles with predictions of the great benefits that will accrue from the games. There were predictions of all the good things that will happen but there were no warnings of the possible pitfalls.
There was not the same hype as there had been about the bid to host the 2010 Football World Cup or even the failed bids for the 2006 World Cup or the Cape Town Olympics. But I suppose that this was inevitable seeing that no other countries were bidding to host the event. The Canadian City of Edmonton, Durban’s only real rival which withdrew its bid in February this year because of fears about the costs of hosting the games.
These concerns were considered even though the city had much of the required infrastructure because Edmonton having hosted major sporting events including the 1978 Commonwealth Games, 1983 World University Games, 2001 World Athletics Championships, the 2006 Women’s Rugby World Cup, the 2007 and 2014 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup and the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup among others.
Even the local Durban newspaper relegated the story to below the bottom half of the front page. The prime time TV news in line with the stated policy of Hlaudi Motsoeneng, the chief operating officer of the SABC, that the public broadcaster must broadcast at least 70% good news stories. The actual news is irrelevant to his master’s voice. It was noticeable that the majority of the spectators appeared to be scholars in school uniforms probably bussed in to swell the crowds. The excited group of citizens pictured celebrating this city’s honour of being appointed host to the 2022 Commonwealth Games all looked to be too young to be tax or ratepayers!
Without a doubt Durban is going to benefit from the games, but the question to be addressed is do the benefits outweigh the risks?
Durban is probably the best suited South African city to host the games because firstly of the ideal climate in July, they do have a large portion of the infrastructure required for the games, the majority of the events will be able to be held in close proximity to each other. At least 80% of the sports activities will happen within a 2.5km radius. The City’s vision is to develop Moses Mabhida Stadium as a mega multi-sport events precinct positioning it as a premier sports tourism destination. Integrating the games precinct into urban core renewal plans supports the eight-point plan of the Integrated Development Plan,” stated Chairman of the Durban 2022 Bid Committee, Mark Alexander. Durban has the experience of hosting large numbers of foreign visitors having hosted several large international conferences.
The awarding of the 2022 Commonwealth Games will certainly benefit the City of Durban in the following aspects the infrastructure will be enhanced, job prospects will offer opportunities, tourism market will be widely publicised, the transport system expanded, and the local economy boosted. Its image will be enhanced as it will be the first city in Africa to host the games.
Moses Mabhida Stadium will play a major role in the hosting of the games, while the Rachel Finlayson Swimming Complex, just a few kilometres away on the promenade, will serve as the aquatics centre. Among others the Kings Park Stadium will be used for the sevens rugby, Queens Park Hockey Stadium will also be used while the Durban Exhibition Centre and the Durban International Conference Centre will be used for indoor events.
Because Durban does have a number of good stadiums much less will be spent than the mind-bogging $3-billion that was spent in 2010. The Durban Games will still cost about $480-million (R6.5-billion) according to reports. However the Moses Mabhida Stadium will still need to be upgraded to accommodate the athletic track and field events.
The greatest benefit to Durban will be in the promotion and attraction of tourists to the City. Some reports show that between 1.2 million and 1.4 million local and foreign visitors are expected to attend the Commonwealth Games over an 11-day period. This is not taking into account the millions of viewers across the globe who will be watching The Games on television and the world wide promotion prior to the games.
The erection of the estimated 7000 houses in the ‘games village’ which will be handed over to indigent families is also a positive step. Chris Tyson the CEO of a Durban property company says: “Over the next 10 years, Durban is destined to become a sporting mecca, business powerhouse and the ultimate lifestyle destination, potentially the most well-structured, advanced city in the country. This announcement is very significant for the Durban property market, he adds. He says an Economic Impact Assessment has revealed that hosting The Games will translate into GDP growth of R11 billion and create about 20 000 direct and indirect jobs.”
Tyson says: “Durban’s time is now. Over the next 10 years, it is destined to become a sporting mecca, business powerhouse and the ultimate lifestyle destination, potentially the most well-structured, advanced city in the country”.
There are a growing number of people who do not believe that the benefits outweigh the risks?
The major concerns raised are economic. Peter Vale, Professor in Humanities, University of Johannesburg commented: “By investing in the 2022 Commonwealth Games, the possibility of investing elsewhere in society has been sacrificed. This wider dimension is important because, while the idea of opportunity cost is mostly associated with money, it can be measured across society as a whole. As South Africa learnt from the 2010 FIFA World Cup, staging sporting events requires not only financial investment but, to succeed, they demand public mobilisation. And, surely, as we build towards 2022, South Africans will be called upon to support eThekwini’s Games. This mobilisation, too, can be measured in opportunity cost terms. Instead of mobilising for the Games, we could direct public energy into concern for climate change, for example.”
While the 20 000 direct jobs and 11 000 indirect jobs are to be welcomed they will be phased in over a period of six years and will in the main be of a temporary nature. The jobs actually created by the increased number of tourists arriving for the games will only be permanent if this increase is sustained, which is probably unlikely.
The estimated increase in the number of tourists coming to the country will most likely not be achieved, the attendance at the other major sporting events held in South Africa such as the 1995 Rugby World Cup, the 2003 Cricket World Cup or even the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The estimates of the increase in visitors will probably not be reached thus dropping the anticipated revenue.
A further worrying factor is South Africa’s new visa regulations. How many athletes in remote commonwealth countries will be unable to visit a South African Consul to give their biometric information, how many minors will arrive without an unabridged birth certificate or a letter signed by both parents. Or will state security and child trafficking be ignored during the Commonwealth Games?
Despite the assurance by Deputy President Ramaphosa that this matter will be resolved urgently after one month the inter-ministerial task team appointed by President Zuma to resolve the matter it has only met once and resolved to establish yet another task team, this time headed by the Director-General in the Presidency Dr. Cassius Lubisi. Government seems oblivious of or does not care about the situation. Just this week Speaker Ms Mbete responded to a request from James Vos MP for a debate of public importance on the impact that the newly promulgated visa regulations are having on our economy and jobs by stating that a debate in terms of Rule 103 should be of “sufficient immediate public importance to give it precedence over other programmed business”.
The erection of an estimated 7000 houses in the ‘games village’ which will be handed over to indigent families after the games is also a positive step however, the question has to be asked would the homeless people not benefit from these houses more now than having to wait for another six years?
Professor Peter Vale also made the point that “International ranking after ranking, comparative study after study, put South Africa near the bottom of the class when it comes to schooling. Almost 40 years after Soweto’s brave Class of ’76 sacrificed their lives against the poor quality of apartheid education, very little fundamentally has changed. The truth is that we have a national education system which reproduces apartheid. And to speak a wholly unpleasant truth to those in power: successive post-apartheid governments have failed South Africa’s children, as much as apartheid ideologues did. I believe that it would have been preferable to spend the money and the seven-year social capital we will expend on the 2022 Games on a root-and-branch overall of South Africa’s schooling system.”
On his return from New Zealand, where the announcement on the Commonwealth Games host was made: eThekwini’s mayor James Nxumalo said “The work begins now; the preparations must start now. We must not wait. We must not lose a single day, a single hour, or even a single minute.”
Imagine the results if this same enthusiasm was applied to education or sustainable job creation South Africa remove obstacles which stand in the way of the desired goals that no single child should be excluded from an equal education and that poverty should be alleviated.
Vale further said “A country mobilised around the national goal of schooling for all — now that will be competition well worth winning — indeed, it may even be one on which economists could agree on!”
It no longer matters that Durban is well-served by stadiums and sporting facilities or that most of these major sporting events have over-run budgets and left both city and national treasuries indebted for decades. There is a nagging notion that the 2004 Athens Olympic Games may have triggered Greece’s current financial disaster.
The decision has now been and barring any major disaster the 2022 Commonwealth Games will be held in Durban. The debates about the pros and cons will continue and most South Africans will be sitting on the edge of their seats to see how many medals are won, but the debate will continue, could the money have been better spent?
In the words of Mr Justice Dennis Davis “you be the judge”.
Until next week,
This newsletter is published by Clive Hatch former Leader of the Opposition in the Mpumalanga Provincial Legislature and former DA Provincial Leader. These views are my personal views and do not represent those of any other person or organisation.