Future dim for South Africa's World Cup stadia

A view of the Johannesburg’s Soccer City stadium.

A view of the Johannesburg’s Soccer City stadium.  

For the past month the world has oohed and aahed at the bevy of glittering football stadia built by South Africa for the World Cup.

From Johannesburg’s Soccer City to Cape Town’s Green Point Stadium and Durban’s Moses Mabhida, the architectural and technological mastery on show in the six new (or nearly new in the case of Soccer City) venues have left fans agape.

“These are really jewels these stadia,” FIFA president Joseph Blatter praised. “Not single European country has so many good and high-level stadia that are available here in South Africa.”

But what now for these hallowed grounds, which cost over 11 billion rand ($1.5 billion) to build and will cost millions more dollars each year to maintain?

In a country where most football games struggle to attract more than a few thousand people — and rugby already has its own cathedrals — how can they avoid becoming white elephants?

The consortium selected to operate Cape Town’s 4.5-billion-rand stadium says it hopes to attract concerts, rugby and football clashes, conferences, festivals and other events to the foot of Table Mountain.

“We hope to secure 10 big events in the first year,” Morne du Plessis, executive chairman of Sail StadeFrance Operating Company (SSOC) and former rugby international, told DPA.

SSOC had already bagged two big concerts — one in November 2010, one in March 2011, he said, while admitting SSOC faced “a daunting task” if it didn’t manage to siphon some rugby away from Cape Town’s Newlands stadium.

SSOC negotiated a very favourable lease with the city of Cape Town, which sees it pay only 1 rand (13 US cents) a year in rent if it does not turn a profit. In the event it does make a profit, the city gets 30 percent.

The city of Durban also plans to name a private operator to run its striking new 70,000-seat Moses Mabhida Stadium.

Like Cape Town, Durban’s stadium, which was built beside a popular rugby stadium and which the city intends to use to pitch for the Olympics, does not have an anchor tenant.

By contrast with Durban and Cape Town, the city of Port Elizabeth, South Africa’s fifth-largest, had no modern stadium before the World Cup.

Its new 1.9-billion-rand Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium puts it in the running for big concerts and sporting events.

“Within the first year, there will probably be some subsidisation (of the stadium operator by the city),” the city’s 2010 director Errol Heynes told DPA.

“But within a year or so we will establish it in such a way that it will be able to sustain itself,” he said, outlining plans to turn the lakeside venue into a leisure hub.

In the rural north and north-east, the cities of Polokwane and Nelspruit also both gained new 45,000-seat stadiums, costing around 1.3 billion rand apiece.

Polokwane’s Peter Mokaba Stadium raised eyebrows, being built from scratch beside an existing football stadium, despite Limpopo having no premier league football side.

Nelspruit, on the other hand, did not have a stadium and does have a premier football team but also faces a challenge to regularly fill 40,000 seats.

One thing is sure: the beautiful game alone won’t cover the rising costs of running high-tech stadiums.

“Rugby is the big money spinner in this country,” said Errol Heynes.

So the race is on for the oval ball, with Johannesburg’s Soccer City, which was rebuilt for the World Cup at a cost of 3.4 billion rand, leading the chase.

Despite Soweto being home to the country’s fiercest football rivalry, between Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs, Soccer City’s operators have decided against a football tenant.

The iconic calabash-shaped World Cup final venue, which will be rebranded as the National Stadium, will host a Tri-Nations clash between South Africa’s Springboks and New Zealand’s All Blacks in August.

To cover estimated annual operating costs of 30 million rand, the stadium will also host conferences, weddings, birthday bashes, and even, the operators say, funerals.

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Printable version | May 30, 2020 11:59:39 AM |

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