The view from Africa

A whole host of problems

May 9, 2012
By Firdose Moonda

Don't have a place for cricket's quarterly mini World Cup because the original hosts, Pakistan, face serious security concerns? Ask South Africa. Don't have a venue for an Indian domestic cricket tournament, the India Premier League (IPL), because elections in the sub-continent will stretch the police force? Ask South Africa. Don't have a host for the African Nations Cup (ANC) in 2013 because Libya's revolution will leave them unprepared? Of course, ask South Africa.

Cape Town Stadium
GettyImagesThe Cape Town Stadium was used for the 2010 World Cup

Always an overeager host for international sporting events, South Africa have stepped in for other countries on every occasion presented to them so far. Despite being only 18-years-old (as a democracy), hosting major events is a usual occurrence and a source of immense pride. These showpieces have provided jobs, created infrastructure and, however superficial, generated a space for some degree of national unity.

As testament to its successes, South Africa is one of only two countries (the other being England) to have hosted a football, rugby and cricket World Cup. Although it has not had the chance to organise an Olympic Games, it has tried to. Cape Town bid for the 2004 event, which eventually went to Athens. The same Cape Town that will not host any matches in next year's ANC and is at the centre of national bickering and discontent with the tournament as a whole.

The saga turned South Africa from a country that has jumped at the chance to host just about anything, to one that seemed to want nothing more than for the ANC to disappear. Twice the announcement of host cities was delayed, causing speculation that South Africa did not know how to plan the event. What was more concerning was that few of the countries' major centres, even those with 2010 World Cup stadia begging to be filled, were willing to sign a host city agreement because it would make them responsible for a range of costs that could have included anything from team accommodation to cleaning and security.

In all South Africa's previous engagements, individual municipalities were not chiefly responsible for the finances of an event. This time it would be different because the ANC was moved to South Africa at the 11th and a half, rather than just 11th hour. "This tournament was not initially on the government calendar and so nobody, including the national treasury, budgeted for it," Paena Galane, spokesperson for the South African sports ministry explained to ESPN.

South Africa was initially scheduled to host the 2017 ANC but agreed to swap with Libya when it became evident that political upheaval would prevent Libya from organising the event. The switch was announced in September last year which left too little time to incorporate it into the 2012-13 financial year's budget.

Unlike an organisation such as the IPL, which was able to relocate to South Africa from India in just over two weeks and cover all costs, CAF does not boast the same cash flow. If neither the continental body, nor the government had the capacity to cover costs, the only people who could were the cities and that is what concerned Cape Town.

Money would have to come from payments made by ordinary people through their rates and Cape Town was not willing to use their people's cash to cover the entire cost of hosting. Cape Town estimated the costs would start at around R27 million (US$3.6 million) but feared they could grow to R40 million (US$5.33 million) once budgets are finalised and asked for certain guarantees. They wanted an assurance that the national treasury would cover 50% of the costs and the South African Football Association (SAFA) 25%, leaving them with only a quarter to pay for themselves.

According to Cape Town's executive mayor, Patricia de Lille, the city did not even receive a reply to the query which led to their refusal to sign the eventual host city agreement. The result was that Cape Town was left off the final list of ANC host cities and their omissions caused a media frenzy.

De Lille was widely quoted as being "disappointed," with what Cape Town considered a snub. "We continue to believe that it would have been irresponsible to sign a host city agreement without substantial amendments to the agreement," de Lille said in a statement. "The fact that other municipalities have seen fit to do so is surprising given the serious problems associated with the agreement."

But, other cities have stomached the uncertainty and put pen to paper, relying on an assurance from the sports minister that costs will be discussed in the near future. Cape Town's reluctance to do the same could stem from the simple fact that it is the only major city in the country run by the official opposition party, the Democratic Alliance and not the ruling party, the African National Congress.

Cape Town were offered what a member of their mayoral committee member for events marketing and tourism, Grant Pascoe, called a "consolation prize." They were named as one of the four cities who will host the 2014 African Nations Championship which comprises only of locally based African players, something Pascoe seem to consider as beneath them.

"We were treated like palookas," he said. "It was unprofessional and these are people who are supposed to host a world-class event. We received absolutely no response. SAFA have to look at themselves because they've done us and the country a disservice."

Both SAFA and the sports ministry dismissed Cape Town's anger as nothing more than a case of sour grapes. "We have nine provinces in the country and someone has to miss out," Galane added. "Their proposal did not even make it into our top five. Cape Town is not the only one to miss out, Bloemfontein will also not host."

Zambia celebrate winning the African Nations Cup.
GettyImagesZambia won the 2012 African Nations Cup with a penalty shootout victory against Ivory Coast

And what of the concerns Cape Town raised and the costs other cities may have to endure? "Every city had a right to ask questions and they all raised legitimate concerns," Mvuzo Mbebe, chief executive of the 2013 ANC Local Organising Committee said. "We have addressed some of these concerns. On May 13, we will begin our roadshow and visit the cities and things will be discussed in more detail."

While that sounds flimsy, Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula had a more reassuring plan. He said national government will look at ways of contributing, they will seek to secure private sponsors, with CAF's blessing, and engage CAF for assistance. SAFA may also be asked to help with costs, especially as it has recently received R450 million (US$60 million) from FIFA for the hosting of the 2010 World Cup.

While some will lament the absence of what is considered South Africa's most beautiful city, Cape Town, from the tournament, others will see it as an opportunity for other venues. Johannesburg's Soccer City will host the opening and closing ceremonies but the city itself may not have any matches. Durban, with its famed Moses Mabhida Stadium, is the other big city that will host matches, although it has also offered less iconic stadiums as possible venues.

The other three host three cities are Rustenburg, Port Elizabeth and Mbombela, all of whom have World Cup stadiums. Rustenburg is often forced to operate in the shadows of Johannesburg but has world class facilities at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium, Port Elizabeth will be particularly pleased because the city does not have a local soccer team to play in its Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium every week and Mbombela, which is close to the Kruger National Park, will hope to benefit from increased tourism.

Glamour is not often associated with these venues but eagerness to also be part of the South African way and to make themselves available as hosts, is. "South Africa has always been a competent host," Mbebe said. "And I know we will have another successful event."