2010 World Cup Stadiums: A Questionable Legacy In South Africa

Sports Industry Magazine has a scathing article up today about the economic legacy of the World Cup in South Africa, questioning the cost of the tournament to South Africa, and giving FIFA a few deserved blows:

The World Cup, like the Olympic Games, is awarded through a competitive “bidding” process run by FIFA where prospective hosts compete for the rights to host a future World Cup. The bids cost millions of dollars to produce, and the “bidding” takes the form of promises of more and more lavish new stadiums to host the games, new luxury hotels for the use of FIFA officials and well-heeled fans and other amenities. Most of the promised spending is public funds. The bidding process, actually a rent extraction scheme designed to separate taxpayers in host countries from their tax dollars and to maximize the prestige of FIFA, would make Bernie Madoff green with envy. The competitive nature of the award process ensures that each potential host promises to provide as large a subsidy as possible for venue construction and renovation, and other amenities.

The most interesting part concerns the legacy of the newly built stadiums currently showcased on our television screens: at an exorbitant cost to build, expensive to maintain, and lacking a clear purpose after the World Cup.

The net economic benefit from hosting the World Cup for South Africa, in terms of current and future tourism impact, is unclear. What is clear is that after the matches are over, and the fans return home, South Africa will be saddled with 10 new or newly renovated football stadiums that are much too large for domestic demand and require a large amount of spending for upkeep and maintenance. This is not surprising news. In Beijing the iconic Birds Nest Stadium, site of many vivid memories from the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, currently stands vacant almost every day of the year, unused by Chinese sports teams because it is too big, and poorly suited, for domestic sporting events. In Japan and South Korea, co-hosts of the 2002 World Cup, a number of new stadiums built for that competition currently host professional football teams that draw a fraction of their huge capacities for football matches.

Don’t look for the FIFA officials, who require–and get–these stadiums and then stick the locals with the bill, in those vacant premium seats. They have already moved on to their next rent extraction target: Brazil, host of the 2014 World Cup. New stadium construction will soon be underway.

The article, though, doesn’t explore what kind of a legacy plan South Africa does have in place for the brand new stadiums built for the World Cup. Because there is, surely, a plan. . . right?

The South African government kindly provides a long page of propaganda on the legacy of the World Cup. Unfortunately, it only offers the vaguest of promises about the use of the stadia after the tournament:

The six new stadiums being built for the 2010 FIFA World Cup will provide South Africa with a number of world class sporting facilities which are sure to enable South Africa to attract more sporting events in the future.

The vagueness there is rather plain. There is just, it seems, a general hope that this will lead to South Africa hosting more events and that the stadiums built will be suitable for them — doubtful at best, especially as there is no other major sporting event that requires that many elite soccer stadia.

In terms of other major international sporting events, South Africa has not bid for the Commonwealth Games in 2018 (as some had expected), though Durban is reportedly the frontrunner from the country for a possible 2020 Olympic bid.

So possibly, maybe, one stadium in one city might turn out to be useful. By 2020.

Durban’s official host city website just mentions the Olympics for post-World Cup use:

After the World Cup™, Durban will be left with a stadium ready for the Olympics, a revamped transport system, a clean and  beautiful city, new parks and gardens, and a whole new set of sports and recreation facilities in areas that were previously lacking in community services.

This piece from The National newspaper provides more detail on the uncertain futures facing the five new stadiums, with none of them able to say they have long-term tenants signed up:

Greg Fredericks, head of the LOC’s legacy programme, said as far as he was aware no long-term tenants had yet been signed up for any of the new stadiums, even though the facilities “are really something to behold”.

“These are things that are being worked on by the football authorities and by the local authorities,” he said.

Green Point is a particular concern. Its location is spectacular, nestling to one side of the city centre with Table Mountain as a backdrop, giving broadcasters an iconic image.

But Capetonians are not avid football fans, and the local rugby union side, Western Province, who play in the Super 14 international championship as the Cape Town Stormers, have shown no inclination to abandon their traditional home, Newlands, which they own, to switch to paying rent instead.

Initially the city authorities had wanted to upgrade an existing stadium in the suburb of Athlone in the Cape Flats, a relatively deprived area with 18 per cent unemployment and much more accessible to the majority of the black population, who form the bulk of football supporters, and where it might have led to local regeneration. But they were overruled by Fifa and the national government.

Similarly, Durban’s Moses Mabhida ground, topped with a graceful arch and possibly the most architecturally impressive of all the stadiums, looks unlikely to become a new home for rugby’s Natal Sharks. Port Elizabeth does not have a Super 14 team, and in the north of the country, Polokwane and Nelspruit do not even have top-flight football clubs.

“As preparations unfolded, it became apparent that the chosen locations for stadia were not necessarily the best-placed to serve the community from financial, environmental or social and sporting perspectives,” wrote Collette Schulz Herzenberg, of the Institute for Security Studies in a paper on the tournament.

(nb: make sure you read Andrew Guest’s post from South Africa on another uncertain legacy of the World Cup, the supposed benefits for the development of the sport at the grassroots level in South Africa).

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