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Durban ratepayers will bankroll a R1.5-million scheme to buy tickets for sports matches, aimed at racially integrating fans and combating empty stadiums.
Saturday sees the launch of the project. It emerged on Thursday that the eThekwini Municipality would spend R125 000 to buy 15 000 tickets for Saturday’s football match between AmaZulu and Golden Arrows at the Moses Mabhida Stadium.
But that is just the start. The hope is to secure more funds for this social cohesion programme, and to extend it for three years.
The city has committed itself to buy tickets for all AmaZulu, Arrows, Sharks and Dolphins home games – a move that has drawn howls of protest from opposition councillors.
It is not clear yet how many tickets would be bought per match or who would receive them, but the initiative is aimed at enticing fans who follow other sports to turn out for teams they do not support.
The city’s head of parks and recreation, Thembinkosi Ngcobo, confirmed on Thursday that money had been allocated for the project.
But opposition parties were outraged, saying the scheme had never been tabled at any of the city’s committee meetings or full council.
Called “My Team My City”, the scheme is part of the city’s hefty R238.2m social cohesion programme. It hopes to create fan bases for local teams and also bring the people of eThekwini together.
The bulk of the budget, R134.2m a year, would be spent on investing in people and culture programmes. A further R105m would be ploughed into a community and social infrastructure programme.
The campaign is expected to be launched with much fanfare on Saturday, with a tour bus travelling through the city centre where celebrities and politicians will interact with the public before proceeding to the stadium for the Durban derby.
Ngcobo said the tickets had been given to the four teams to distribute to their fans and various schools across the city.
He added that the programme would not only help to boost the morale of the teams, but would also ensure that the city’s stadiums, Moses Mabhida, Kings Park and Kingsmead, were always filled and sustained.
“Whenever one of the teams plays, all four teams will be given tickets to give to their fans,” he said.
While there was no set time frame for the campaign, Ngcobo said he was optimistic that in four years’ time the people of Durban would have heeded their plea to support local teams.
“We will continue with the campaign until we have reached what we set out to do, which is to see our stadium packed week in and week out, and also to break all racial barriers,” he said.
“People only pack the stadium when Chiefs or Pirates are playing against AmaZulu or Arrows, which is only four times a year. We want that behaviour to change; every game in the city must bring an excitement amongst people.”
Ngcobo conceded that the Sharks and Dolphins were not faced with the same supporter predicament as the football teams.
However, the city wanted to entice black sports fans to support the sports which were often seen as predominantly white supported, he said.
Opposition parties were surprised to hear of the campaign, questioning who had given it the go-ahead as the project was never tabled at any of the committees.
Ngcobo said the report would be tabled at next week’s health, safety and social service committee meeting.
NFP councillor, Ahmed Shaik Emam, described the programme as the craziest idea the city had ever come up with.
“Ratepayers are already overburdened with the increasing rates, yet the city has money to splash on enticing sports fans. Surely if you’re a true sports fan you should be able to buy your own ticket?” he said.
Instead of splashing out on free tickets, the city should rather plough the money into development, said the DA’s deputy caucus leader, Zwakele Mncwango.
Describing the municipal leaders as power drunk, IFP councillor, Mdu Nkosi, said the project would set the wrong precedent.
“It will haunt them in the long run because in future people will not want to buy tickets because they will expect to get them free from the city,” he said.
MF councillor, Patrick Pillay, said the decision was irrational. “How can they purchase tickets before the report could be tabled and discussed at any of the committee meetings?”
A bemused Lilian Develing, of the Combined Ratepayers Association, said she was not shocked by the project because she had come to expect the unexpected from the city.
“Here we go again. That’s our city,” she said of the initiative.
“I think the city is desperate to prove that Moses Mabhida is not a white elephant and they are exploring the most ludicrous of ideas to keep it occupied.”
It emerged in June that eThekwini ratepayers had paid a hefty R50m since the Soccer World Cup to attract events to the R3.1-billion stadium.
This has raised serious concerns about the long-term viability of the stadium in the absence of an anchor tenant with deep pockets to make it financially sustainable.
AmaZulu spokesman, Philani Mabaso, confirmed that the team had received the tickets.