The fate of the Westridge Tennis Stadium, an age-old sporting institution in Durban, stands on the precipice of closure because of an advertising contract that is in need of approval from the eThekwini Municipality.
Administrator and operator of the stadium, the eThekwini Tennis Association (ETA) said the drama began after an application for the new advertising board was made to the municipality.
ETA’s Gary Brown told IOL that a company, Evolv, helped them with the process of acquiring a new advertising board, which is the only stable income the facility has for upkeep.
The old board, which the City told Brown was in violation of by-laws, was a static board that featured company logos whereas the new one will be digital.
Brown said they received little funding from the Department of Sport and that they relied heavily on the advertising revenue as their bread and butter, which they used to pay staff, maintain the court and host tournaments at the stadium.
“Since this dilemma started a couple of months ago, we have had to cut back on our staff and even day-time security because we simply do not have the funding to run this place,” he said.
Brown said they were working hard to make the space attractive to locals.
“A local young African player from the community near the stadium made it to the finals of the doubles contest recently. The evidence of the club’s influence on the community is clear.”
Another testament to the success of the stadium is the story of Emmanuel Ngema from KwaMashu, a tennis coach who dedicated years of his life teaching children for free.
Ngema started coaching a group of around 20 children in 2015 and by 2022, had in excess of 400 students under him, Independent on Saturday (IOS) reported.
The stadium is also a crucial part of the game of tennis in KwaZulu-Natal, especially at a scholarly level, due to the size of the facility, housing 25 tournament level courts.
Chris Masters, manager for Evolv Outdoor confirmed that his company was locked in a process with the municipality.
The application, according to Masters, was made in May 2023 and they received a rejection from the City in November that year.
“They told us the new board was contravening by-laws, particularly around traffic.
“But we prepared for that curve ball and we have engaged in a dispute. We filed an appeal in December and are now waiting to hear back from the City,” Masters said.
It is understood that the new digital sign board will affect multiple departments of the City, including, Roads and Transport and Parks, thus requiring multiple units to take part in its clearance.
The eThekwini Municipality said the application was refused in line with the eThekwini Outdoor Advertising By-law.
The City said the area which Evolv wanted to erect the new sign board was “maximum control area”, which meant the type of board is not permitted.
The City characterised the new board as one that would affect the environment around it, including the visual, social and traffic safety aspects.
It said that third party advertising was not allowed.
“eThekwini Municipality is willing to work with the KZN Tennis Association as it has developed a long-term good relationship with them, provided they comply with the City’s by-laws,” the municipality said.
“However, if the Association wishes to terminate the lease agreement, this cannot be prevented.”
Brown also indicated that the allegations about bribery, made by a parody X account that goes by the name @Goolam, were false.
“We were never approached by anyone to pay a bribe,” Brown said.