[OPINION] #Durban2022: Canning it is right call, but who'll pay?
Monday’s slow drip-feed of the news that Durban was to formally lose the right to host the Commonwealth Games in 2022 was, in fairness, the exact end this sorry tale deserved. Limp, insipid, a can-kicking moment which after a day or two of scrutiny will probably fall by the wayside.
And while embarrassing as it is as a nation, the scale of the current political situation (was this by extension a potential piece of that crisis?) punctuated by issues around Sassa, Prasa, the SABC, SAA, banting and who is going to coach Bafana Bafana, and that was just yesterday, then this will hardly register.
However, there is the small factor of around R100 million that went into securing, unchallenged, a Games that not only wanted to make a statement of intent from a continental perspective, but was a precursor to a possible Olympic Games coming to Africa later in the next decade. Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula will hold a press conference on Tuesday at the Moses Mabhida stadium to explain, although it hasn’t been possible to ascertain whether the bungee cord will be attached on the stadium’s arch.
Durban’s intent was always clothed in deep romance: it’s a city that lends itself geographically to an event of this nature, with all the venues virtually within walking distance of each other and winter a foreign concept, it was to be South Africa’s sporting hub, a seat of excellence. Perhaps a bit odd considering the impressive high-performance facilities (albeit private) in Pretoria and Stellenbosch and the behemoth National Training Centre in Mangaung.
Now rewind to the Springbok squad announcement for the Rugby World Cup in late August 2015 at a Durban hotel where Mark Alexander, the then SA Rugby vice president, and the chairman of the bid committee briefly sat through a press conference before dashing off to catch a flight to Auckland for Durban 2022’s coronation. It appears now that it was nothing less than a mercy flight, a day to stroll out and provide a fluffy, ‘historic’, moment for the country that what was, in reality, a non-starter. A thorough scouting of the stadium and the city that day provided not a stitch of evidence that Durban was in line to host its biggest event ever, the writing was on the wall ages ago.
This decision will once again raise the issue of the actual viability of the Commonwealth Games as many argue it’s a relic of the past that perhaps needs to be firmly left behind, and is often not a priority among some of the world’s top athletes; or better yet, park it in one venue and not be wheeled around the world like a travelling, second-rate circus. That’s now Birmingham or Liverpool’s problem.
Back home though while many were happy to bask in the decision of attracting Africa’s first multi-sport event, the reality is that there was a mad scramble to get the bid book in order and the green light from Treasury was only given at the last minute. In reality these were the Games that Durban didn’t really want, in fact, nobody wanted them.
And now for the fallout: there are serious questions that need to be asked of those involved, particularly in light of the huge sum spent on winning the bid. The public deserves a full explanation and thorough investigation and if there has been malfeasance at any point then that should be pursued to the full letter of the law.
Mark Alexander’s duties ended the moment the bid was delivered (won) and he’s since gone on to become the President of SA Rugby. He can’t hide behind that and needs to front up about why there was no follow-through, and importantly where exactly the money went.
Sascoc should be held accountable for the complete failure to constitute any of the structures as required by the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF). If they were hamstrung in any way due to a lack support or direction from government then both the Department of Sport and the Treasury should provide a set of full answers too, immediately. And recently re-elected President Gideon Sam should consider his position as well as CEO Tubby Reddy.
EWN reported extensively on the fact that Louise Martin (CGF chairperson) delayed a trip to Rwanda nearly two weeks ago in order to attempt to meet with President Jacob Zuma and deliver the verdict her team of assessors personally. It’s still not clear if that meeting took place as all the CGF would confirm was that ‘high-level’ meetings occurred.
Despite EWN’s repeated enquiries over a number of days at no point was the Presidency, the Department of Sport or Treasury able to provide any concrete answers to even acknowledge they planned to meet, instead they said they knew nothing of the sort. In fact, Zuma’s office first derided our enquiry, demanded to know our source and then promised to revert. That was 10 days ago and EWN has never heard back from them.
It’s time for answers now though; the country’s a laughing stock as a result of this and once again it is the aspiring athletes and hard-working officials on the ground that are most sorely hit.
The truth is that Durban pulled up lame in this race early on and the CGF did us all a favour on Monday by drawing up the screen and delivering the fatal shot.
Jean Smyth is the Cape Town sports editor at Eyewitness News. Follow him on Twitter: @JeanSmyth