Durban to bid for 2016?

2008-08-22 00:00

The 2008 Olympics comes to an end this weekend, leaving us wanting more and wondering why we have to wait another four years for the next “greatest show on earth”. It may be an illusion soon burst by the pricks of new drug revelations, but the impression of the Beijing Games is that they have been not only the best, but also the cleanest.

The Olympics have survived a bad patch when drug cheats seemed to have won dual victories on the tracks and in the laboratories. The vigilance will have to continue for this is a battle that will never be over. The collateral benefits of winning a clutch of gold medals are now such that temptation will always be put in the paths of athletes by unscrupulous coaches. You can be sure that even as you read this, chemists somewhere are working on a new generation of performance-enhancing drugs and masking agents.

Swimmers eyeing London in 2012 will be asking themselves, What it will take to beat Michael Phelps? If the answer is to be found in a batch of syringes and a guarantee against detection, some will take the shortcut on the grounds that there is no other way to beat the astonishing American. For the moment, however, let us enjoy our fresh memories of China’s brilliant staging of the 2008 Olympics.

One question now is not so much whether any country can top the Beijing show, but which countries can actually afford to stage the gargantuan summer Olympics? Has the size and technical complexity of the Olympic Games not reached such heights that only the top tier of nations can realistically contemplate a staging.

Clem Sunter, the sage of Anglo American, is currently on the road with a show that argues South Africa has slipped enough in the ratings of international countries to find itself in the relegation zone of the premier league of nations. For countries in the relegation zone staging the Olympics might seem to be the ideal investment to lever their way up the league of industrial countries.

Their problem is that a botched staging of the Olympics may well hasten the drop into the dreaded league of failed states.

The elders of Durban city are to be applauded for the enterprise in launching a bid to stage the 2016 games. They are right to assume that sooner or later the Olympics must be awarded to an African city and that if it is to be sooner then a South African city stands an excellent chance of securing the prize. Having seen the height to which the bar has been raised by Beijing, they must now be wondering if the staging of the modern Olympics is not beyond the capacity of any South Africa city?

There is no chance that future games will be smaller in size or simpler to stage. The trend towards larger and better is well established. The success of Beijing has ensured that, notwithstanding the global credit crunch, future Olympics will attract even larger television revenues and sponsorships. Such stakeholders do not do smaller.

From a national perspective, the important fact to remember is that only once has the staging of the Olympics not increased the post-games gross domestic product of the host country. The exception, not surprisingly, was the 1936 Berlin Games after which Nazi Germany’s rampage through Europe destroyed any growth chances that country may have had.

The prize of increased national growth is not be sneezed at, but the ratepayers of Durban might like some guarantees from the national government that they will not be left to foot the bill as happened with the good citizens of Montreal.

The first problem facing Durban, of course, is to make a plausible case for being awarded the Olympics. In this respect the city has not been helped by South African performances in Beijing. A lone silver medal does not send a message that South Africa is a country where sport is a much regarded activity that receives the kind of government support that encourages the development of world class athletes.

A bid by Harare to stage the Olympics would be ridiculed, but our broken neighbour walked off with more medals than we did. It seems inevitable that South Africa will be embarrassed by the performance of its soccer team (if the rabble comprising Bafana Bafana and its masters justifies such a description) at our own forthcoming World Cup. The IOC will not want to see a similar debacle in respect of its 2016 games. This may represent an insurmountable hurdle for Durban.

If the parliamentary sports committee is to perform any newsworthy activity other than harassing the only two sports that bring South Africa any prestige, it might like to turn its attention to the shocking performance of our athletes in Beijing. After a poor showing in Athens, the British government got off its butt and increased funding for its Olympic team to levels that gave their athletes the chance to prepare themselves in a manner that ensured their competitiveness in Beijing.

The result of this intervention has not only been a raft of medals for Great Britain, but has ensured that the run-up to the London Olympics in 2012 will be accompanied by unbridled local enthusiasm and anticipation. Therefore the message to the parliamentary sports committee is — lay off cricket and rugby and start earning your keep.

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