As South African sports authorities mull over whether to include track cycling in the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Durban, cycling officials are scrambling to raise funding to build a new velodrome – in Pietermaritzburg.
Cycling SA and officials of the Msunduzi Municipality and KZN Provincial Treasury were to meet on Friday for another round of talks aimed at finding ways to fund the project – and make Pietermaritzburg “Bike City”.
Cycling SA’s general manager, Mike Bradley, said they had been in discussions with the municipality since last month about building a multi-sport facility which would include an Olympic-size velodrome, complete with a 250m wooden track, near the Pietermaritzburg (Oribi) Airport.
Bradley said it was hoped the facility, which was estimated would cost between R80 million and R120m to build, would be ready in time by June 2022 and afford Pietermaritzburg a chance to grab a slice of the Commonwealth Games’ pie.
Durban, awarded the rights to host the games last week, is yet to confirm whether track cycling – an optional Commonwealth sport – would be included in the event.
South African Commonwealth Games’ organisers have hinted that track cycling would be omitted because the country could not afford to build a new facility.
The admission has caused grumbles in Australian, British and New Zealand cycling fraternities who rely on track cycling to bump up their medal haul.
Those countries topped the track medal table at the last Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014, largely thanks to their prowess in cycling.
Although a part of the Commonwealth Games since 1934, track cycling is an optional sport for host cities. Athletics, badminton, men’s boxing, hockey, lawn bowls, netball, men’s rugby sevens, squash, swimming and weightlifting are the core sports that must appear, with each host selecting seven others of their choice.
While Durban has the Cyril Geoghegan Velodrome near the King’s Park precinct, Bradley said it was not up to Olympic specifications and would need a total renovation, including putting a roof on it, to bring it up to specification.
“For the same amount of money we could build a brand new velodrome,” he said, adding that building a velodrome in Pietermaritzburg was part of a bigger plan to make the city a “bike city” and attract cycling tourism.
“Pietermaritzburg is already considered an (UCI) International Cycling Union bike city because it hosts more bike championships than any other city in the world. At the moment we have municipal land that will be part of a techno park. If we can find funding to build a structure on it, the velodrome can go ahead. If we can build this before the Commonwealth Games, track cycling can be included,” he said.
Bradley said the UCI was “very concerned” that cycling may be omitted from the games and was willing to help.
“They need track cycling because of the medal haul it garners for athletes,” he said.
Speaking soon after Durban was awarded the rights to host the games, Gideon Sam, Commonwealth Games Federation vice-president said he had met UCI president, Brian Cookson, to discuss the issue.
He said that if the union wanted to be part of the Games in 2022, they needed to “come to the party and help us build a velodrome”.
“The city of Pietermaritzburg is pretty keen to have a park where a velodrome could be built, so on the table right now is ‘come to the party cycling federation and the city of Pietermaritzburg will respond’,” Sam said.
“Until such time we cannot entertain a velodrome in South Africa.”
Bradley said they were looking at various business models to make the velodrome sustainable in the long term.
“If we can build a velodrome then we could have various other sports inside of it such as an indoor athletics track which could be used throughout the year. We could put basket ball courts inside, weightlifting, gymnastics or anything you want.”
Bradley said in the long term, building a new wooden track velodrome would make South African cyclists competitive on the global stage and increase their ability to rake in more medals at cycling events.
“The British built a velodrome in Manchester soon after 2000. They went from one medal in the 2000 Olympic Games to 20 for the 2012 London Olympics.
“In 12 years by having a proper Olympic-size velodrome and high performance centre, their growth in track cycling increased,” Bradley said.