How ready is SA to host Olympics?

2014-02-16 14:00

Now that the ground has been laid for South Africa to bid for the 2024 Olympic Games, the country must guard against falling into the trap of cost overrun and false promises to the nation once it wins the right to host the quadrennial event.

This is what South Africa must be cautious about:

  • South Africans were promised world-class infrastructure as a spin-off for hosting the 2010 Fifa World Cup but were never told they would have to pay for some of it afterwards, such as the e-tolls that have left Gauteng motorists with a R20?billion debt to settle; and
  • Financial nightmares once the Games are over. So what is needed are plans for the sustainable development of any new buildings to avoid white elephants.

With no experience of hosting a global, multicoded sporting event, South Africa can learn from the previous hosts how to avoid these pitfalls and fit in with the Olympic

Movement’s idea of compact and frugal events. SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee president Gideon Sam said: “A portion of the money for hosting will come from the Olympic Movement. But it is entirely up to the country to put in the kind of money it believes will showcase itself to the world. We pulled it off with the 2010 World Cup opening and closing ceremonies.”

The Winter Olympics, which are currently under way in Sochi, Russia, are in the spotlight as the most expensive in history with a $50?billion (R542?billion) price tag.

So far, the most expensive summer Olympics were the Beijing 2008 Games, costing a monstrous $40?billion. But ­China was not left in debt after the event, as a large portion of the bill was invested in permanent infrastructure that has been in use since.

Greece experienced a financial nightmare after it spent $15?billion on Athens 2004. This was largely due to increased security infrastructure upgrades as the Games were the first to be held after the September 11 attacks in the US.

Sam believes the country can draw valuable experience from hosting the 2010 Fifa World Cup, which was the first time the tournament was hosted in Africa.

South Africa spent more than R27?billion in total on the soccer spectacle. According to government’s final report, more than R9?billion was spent on building and upgrading stadiums, and about R10?billion went to improving road, rail and air links.

Sam said: “The contribution from the 2010 World Cup will go a long way. We are a very different story to when we bid to host the 2004 Olympics.”

The current Olympic programme comprises 26 sports and 302 events, and South Africa needs enough venues to cater for more than that, as the number of sports and events will probably increase by the time the 2024 Games come around. South Africa’s existing sports venues are mostly the infrastructure that was either refurbished or built from scratch to host the 2010 World Cup.

But these are specifically for soccer and would need further upgrades to get, for instance, an Olympic-size athletics track that meets international standards. The general consensus is that Durban will bid for the Games after the coastal city’s initial intention to contest as the candidate for the 2020 Games.

The iconic Moses Mabhida Stadium is capable and ideal for being the main Olympic arena, being centrally located in the city.

Based on the average number of countries that qualified for the past two Olympics (Beijing 2008 and London 2012), the host city must have the capacity to house nearly 11?000 athletes from 204 nations. Again, these numbers are likely to increase by 2024.

The benchmark for accommodation during Olympic Games is 40?000 rooms, predominantly in three- to five-star hotels or other lodgings of an equivalent standard.

Government’s support will be crucial to help determine which city would be best suited to make the bid. Once it has endorsed the bid, government should also venture into a thorough campaign to sway key votes, starting with its Brics counterparts. Brazil is hosting the 2016 edition, Russia is currently staging the Winter Olympics and China hosted the Games in 2008.

There is talk India may bid for the 2024 event as well, which means should South Africa go ahead with its bid, it would have to convince India to withdraw and rather back the idea of Africa’s first Olympics. The offer would involve backing

India to host the Games at a later stage. Bidding for the 2024 host city will officially begin next year, with the winning bid to be announced at the International Olympic Committee congress in 2017.

FACTS

Olympic bid check list

The technical criteria the ­International Olympic ­Committee uses to assess the bidding city’s potential to stage the Games:

»?Government and public support

»?Vision and legacy

»?Games concept and competition venues

»?Olympic Village

»?International Broadcast Centre / Main Press Centre

»?Experience from past sports events

»?Environmental conditions and impact

»?Accommodation

»?Transport

»?Medical services and doping control

»?Safety and security

»?Telecommunications

»?Energy

»?Legal aspects, and customs and immigration formalities

»?Finance and marketing

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