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South Africa was fixated on the Commonwealth Games

Opinion
DURBAN - Now that the last remnants of the Commonwealth Games mess have been swept away, we ought to consider what the lessons were for both Durban and South Africa.

The obvious one is not to over-promise and under-deliver. Ever since 1995, when South Africa hosted the Rugby World Cup and we pretended all was dandy in the Rainbow Nation, we've been seduced by the idea of staging mega-events.

We’ve had the African Cup of Nations, the Presidents Cup, the World Cup of Athletics, the World Twenty20 Championship, the Cricket World Cup, the Confederations Cup, the Indian Premier League, the ICC Championship, and of course, the 2010 World Cup.

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Durban and the Moses Mabhida Stadium. Photo: File

If we're brutally honest, we've been a little greedy. We pulled them all off to varying degrees of success, but still our desire wasn't sated. The Commonwealth Games was one more vanity project South Africa seemingly couldn't do without.

Even though Durban put on its best party dress and sold the city as a great tourist and sporting destination, you never got the feeling that everyone was on-side. The bid was disjointed, the celebrations muted. Bricks weren't laid and visitors to the city never got a sense of urgency that a big party was around the corner.

The cash was the stumbling block. Officially, R4 billion was on the table, although cost estimates went to double that. Without government guarantees, that was never going to fly. Little wonder people got jittery and the plug was pulled.

It's just as well. South Africans have big event fatigue and are tired of the public purse being drained for massive events that seldom leave a legacy or create permanent jobs.

Hopefully, this also shuts down any nonsense talk about a bid for the Olympic Games, which was the hope post-2022.

Years ago, Cape Town got a bloody nose with its attempt to woo the International Olympic Committee, and it's just as well considering the staggering cost of the Olympics.

Moreover, the legacy is questionable. Just look at Rio de Janeiro where Olympic venues now lie wasted and dilapidated. And that bill is still to be paid.

The curious thing about the Commonwealth Games was why South Africa was so fixated on the event in the first place. The relationship with the old British Empire has long been rocky, dating as far back as 1934 when the Games were taken away from Johannesburg and given to London because of the poor treatment of black athletes in South Africa.

The country ultimately left the Commonwealth 66 years ago, choosing to go it alone.

The Commonwealth Games celebrates this relic of British imperialism, which is an odd thing for modern-day South Africa to endorse so enthusiastically.

It’s an anachronism that has little value to everyday South Africans. Frankly, it’s weird how we’ve pursued Commonwealth Games medals every four years in the context of where South Africa is now. Bowing down to the queen just wouldn’t fly.

And so to 2023 and South Africa’s bid to host the Rugby World Cup. At the risk of seeming schizophrenic, this is a goal worth pursuing. It wouldn't require massive investments in infrastructure. All the stadiums are in place, our travel network is extensive and accommodation is plentiful.

It would still cost plenty, but the difference is that South Africa has a great appetite for rugby, and corporates would willingly get involved. World Rugby was in town this week, taking a look around, although both France and Ireland are in the running too.

Rugby will have learned much from the Durban shemozzle, chiefly that any big event is a non-starter without the government’s buy-in. With an economy in freefall and social unrest the national sport, investors are understandably nervous about doing business here. World Rugby would need to be assured of the inclusiveness of South Africa’s bid.

Relief ought to be the prevailing sense in the wake of the failed Commonwealth Games bid. Yes, getting the gig might have reflected well on Durban’s status as a true international city, but the truth is that the city dodged a bullet.

Sunday Tribune

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