South Africa is no stranger to hosting international sporting events. We’ve hosted the “big three” world cups: rugby (1995), cricket (2003) and soccer (2010). Throw in the African Cup of Nations, the Indian Premier League, the T20 cricket World Cup and several international swimming events and you’ll see a country capable of hosting major international sporting events.
So this week’s annoucement by the SA Sport and Olympic Commitee (SASCOC) made sense: South Africa will bid to host the summer Olympics in 2020. There was a follow-up annoucement: Durban will be one of the cities to bid. An Olympics in Durban. Wow.
There are obvious questions: (1) can Durban do it? and (2) can we afford it?
Having written a few stories on this, I will try answer these two questions, starting with whether or not Durban can pull it off.
The answer to this is a simple one. Yes, Durban is entirely capable of hosting the Olympics. Think about it. We already have an Olympics Stadium (the Moses Mabhida Stadium which, with little effort, can accomodate 80 000 fans). Right next door is the Absa Stadium, which – as far as I’ve heard – will be turned into an indoor arena or kept as a field for the soccer and 7s rugby (a new Olympic code). There’s the Durban Country Club just a pitching wedge across Masabalala Yengwa Avenue (formerly NMR Avenue) for the golf, another new Olympic code.
I’ll go on… There’s already an Olympic-size swimming pool, also across the road from the Moses Mabhida Stadium. Yes, that will have to be massively revamped, but it’s there – and so is the land for any such revamp. There’s also space for the Olympic Village, which would be at the site of the old drive-in movies.
Still I go on. There’s the beach for the beach volleyball. There’s already a marathon route for the annual Durban City Marathon, and the beachfront and ocean would be perfect (and wonderfully scenic) for a bi- or tri-athlon.
I will say this, though, there will be some issues with the canoeing and kayaking disciplines. But my colleague Simon Osler reckons that the Inanda Dam would be perfectly suited for this purpose.
So, there you have it, Durban is perfectly capable of hosting the Olympics. As journo Neal Collins said, there is no more perfectly prepared city in South Africa – possibly even globally – to host the Games.
Now to question two: can Durban afford it?
The straight answer is a resounding no. There is no way that the Durban ratepayers can pick up a bill of about R35 billion or R40 billion (which is what it cost the country, the WHOLE country, to host the soccer World Cup). Fortunately, Durban will not have to pick up the entire bill.
Money will have to come from the IOC, from SASCOC, from national government and from the KZN government – and a little from the city of Durban. That little bit can be paid for through the taking out of a loan, as is currently being done to fund other capital projects in the city. This is not a foreign principle to other South African cities, let alone Durban. It is something done often, and Durban’s excellent credit rating – long term and short term – makes lending not too unlikely or dangerous an idea.
Yes, there are concerns about debt. Look what happened with the Montreal games, where it took the city decades to pay off its Olympics debt. But I think that the financial principles shown by the local municipality (in general, because there have been some silly ones) mean that this is a definate possibility for Durban to afford.
So, Durbanites, and other interested parties, we can host the Olympics. It’ll be tough, it will cost us a little bit, but it can be done. And, personally, I think it’ll be a wonderful thing for the city.
I say: bring on the Olympics. Bring. Them. On.
(attached are the .pdf pages of the Tribune article, should you want to read the full text)