The cost of sporting vanity

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Can South Africa afford the cost involved in hosting an international sporting event like the 2022 Commonwealth Games when vanity is the only real motivating force behind it?

The country’s most recent experience with such an event has been the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

About that event the government’s final report stated: “In the absence yet of any final definitive figures on how much was earned in total from being the host, the World Cup had left an intangible legacy of pride and unity (our emphasis) among South Africans and had changed the country’s image as undeveloped, crime-ridden and dangerous in the eyes of the rest of the world.”

While the latest statistics on crime in the country even seem to belie the claimed change in the “crime-ridden” image of the country, the only positive that remains is the perceived “intangible legacy of pride and unity”.

And the cost of it all: R27 billion, according to that very same official government report. At the same time the cost lingers on as the running costs of most of the stadiums built for that occasion amount to deficits year after year.

It would be interesting to see the results should a survey be done today among the broad populace to ascertain whether they still think the feelings of “pride and unity” at the time were worth the cost.

Even more interesting and telling are the reasons given by the Canadian city of Edmonton which has just withdrawn their bid for hosting the 2022 Commonwealth Games. Its political leadership argues that the cost involved cannot be justified at a time that prevailing economic conditions force them to cut back on education and health service budgets.

Edmonton’s withdrawal now leaves the bid of Durban the only one on the table. The present estimate ­– and history tells us that it is likely that real costs will look considerably different eight years down the line – is that the hosting cost will be R10 billion.

And that it will not only be Durban’s cost is clear from the word go. The cost of making the bid alone is R98 million, with the city contributing R18 million and the rest coming from provincial and central government coffers.

Like Edmonton, Durban and those responsible at other levels of government, should maybe consider which other priorities in a country, province and city beset with so many other pressing economic and social challenges will have to play second fiddle to essentially a vanity project.

The first, immediate knee jerk reaction coming out of Durban was that it is all systems go for the bid. But maybe they should sit back for a moment and consider a Bloomberg report of 2012 on the impact of 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.

That report concluded, among other things, that … the €9 billion Athens Games highlighted Greece’s inability to manage its budget – a shortcoming that haunts the Greeks to this day.”

Another report reads: “Eight years after the Athens Summer Games, Greece is in economic turmoil, and the value of all the expensive facilities is in question.”

A month before the most recent Olympic Games of 2012 in London, Bloomberg reported: “Any Londoner can testify that there has been a great deal of moaning and grumbling about the 2012 Olympics. A BBC-sponsored pop music festival in late June suffered an embarrassing leak when somebody posted a picture of a backstage notice to performers: ‘We please ask that you do not reference the Olympic Games in a negative or derogatory way.’ It’s extraordinary, really, that such a request should be necessary in a host city with a month to go before the start of the Games.”

Time for reflection

International sporting events have become a massive industry, operated off the back of expensive and often limited self-sustaining life after events, infrastructure supplied at the expense of taxpayers and other social needs. Controversy surrounding these events has also almost become the norm.

Maybe Durban has an opportunity to deliver a bigger service to citizens of countries and cities around the world: To also withdraw its bid and force everyone involved, from international sport administrators, governments at all levels and national sporting bodies to reflect deeply and holistically on possible new approaches to these kinds of events.

by Spectator

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