Yes, the cost would have been huge, but even larger is the potential for sponsorship and as is painfully obvious, a lot of the work has to be done anyway.
The athletes’ village would turn into student or low cost residences which are needed. The sports facilities would benefit athletes and kids going forward. They are needed. Roads and transport improvements are needed and will enhance the city’s future, as did the clean-up of the centre for World Cup 2010.
But more than all of that would have been the benefit of relentless global TV and media coverage before, during and after the Games that would have pitched Durban as a world tourism destination alongside Joburg and Cape Town, but with warm sea, beautiful beaches, a unique African-Asian atmosphere, a day’s journey from Europe and critically, a weak currency.
What a wasted opportunity. The argument that this was a vanity project, given the poverty here, is spurious. Tourism growth and general economic growth is the solution to inequality and poverty. It’s the economy, stupid!
This week I attended the World Travel Market Exhibition in Cape Town. I facilitated a discussion about sports tourism and how it is growing across the world at an amazing rate. Within it there are top events and there are participation activities and the trick is to marry the two.
You watch the top golfers playing in The Open at St Andrews and then the course, and the town, offers amateurs the chance, at a reasonable rate, to play the famous Old Course during the rest of the year. What golfer in the world does not have that on his or her bucket list?
There are many other examples.
The largest sporting event in the world is the Tour de France. Millions watch it live on the route and regions contribute to the cost in order to have their attractions covered by TV. They compete for the privilege of owning a small part of the event. It is the TV equivalent of the Masters or The Open for cyclists all over the world and they ride the stages on holidays.
I’d rather watch paint dry than watch cycling, but to see those villages, castles, chateaus and mountains and to learn of the history is addictive to me. As such, a trip to the south of France is definitely on the Robbie bucket list simply from watching the race on TV. Millions of families feel the same and the whole of France benefits. That is why the race exists and it thrives.
Did you know that a cycle tour of South Africa is being suggested? It is based on the fabulously successful Tour of Britain which has copied France.
Think of international pro cycling teams battling it out in some of our unique locations. Think of the Cradle. Think of the Lowveld. Think of the Free State highlands. Picture the peloton winding its way through the Drakensberg or the Garden Route.
Imagine a Nelson Mandela stage linking views from the island to the prison, to the planned new statue where he gave his first address after being freed. Imagine if that was the finish line? Imagine the emotional moment when the winner crosses that line. The world would watch and feel good and want to visit.
The benefits to each stage region and to the country in general are massive and obvious, and they reach far beyond tourism itself. Communities would have a day to remember and a reason to put on a show. It would be an inspiration to take up healthy activity. Cycling itself would continue to push South Africa as a leading centre. It would be a local party being enjoyed by the world.
The country would have another major event to stage successfully and heaven knows, we need to feel good about ourselves again. If it goes ahead, the next step will surely be a parallel race for women.
How is it funded? There is a massive opportunity for local, provincial and national authorities and business to get together and make it work.
Will it happen next year? After the lack of leadership and bigger picture thinking displayed surrounding the Commonwealth Games fiasco, I wonder. Do we still have the ability to work together for a common goal that will benefit all of us regardless of background? That is the real question. I for one earnestly hope so.
* Robbie is a former British Lions, Ireland and Transvaal rugby scrumhalf