Questions over future use of World Cup stadiums

South Africa’s World Cup stadiums are hunting for new business — even professional wrestling — but the country’s most lucrative sports say they were sidelined long before kick-off.

The showcase Soccer City, now rebranded as FNB Stadium, will host a sold-out Springboks-All Blacks rugby Test on Saturday.

The other nine stadiums, which cost more than R16-billion to stage Africa’s first Soccer World Cup, are looking for similar opportunities.

But failure by organisers to bring rugby and cricket on board ahead of the tournament has raised questions on future uses of some stadiums in the scramble to meet massive running costs.

“What we are discussing today should have been discussed before we built the new soccer stadiums. It’s tragic for us as a nation that we have to act in reverse gear,” said Oregan Hoskins, president of the South African Rugby Union.

The stadiums are now competing for big sports fixtures while exploring naming rights and money-spinners like conferences, concerts, weddings and even BMX and wrestling in smaller towns like Port Elizabeth.

Like rugby, cricket faces pressure to shake off its white roots but has been forced to rule out all new stadiums because the pitches are too small, except for the 70 000-seater in Durban, which will host a match in January.

“Historically our game has not been played in some of the areas that some of these stadiums have been built, so we saw an opportunity,” Gerald Majola, general manager of Cricket South Africa told parliament’s sports committee.

“But unfortunately we have not been party to the designs of the stadiums.”

This is despite a study showing that small host towns Nelspruit, Polokwane and Rustenburg have ideal weather to host an annual Indian Premier League-style (IPL) event amid the congested world calendar in August.

“If we had met before time and considered a lot of issues before then, we would have known that the stadiums should have been at least accommodating other sports as well,” said Majola.

Major challenges
For rugby, Durban and Cape Town pose major challenges because the Sharks and Stormers already have successful home grounds nearby.

Other stadiums with top teams — the Cheetahs, Bulls and Lions — were revamped at a fraction of the cost in Bloemfontein, Pretoria and Johannesburg.

“If one looks at the whole country, eThekwini [Durban] and Cape Town are the only cities where you have the new stadiums almost alongside the existing rugby stadiums,” Hoskins told the hearing this week.

“It’s almost like one is seeing a mirror image of the way things have gone.”

Tenant-free Cape Town stadium was built for R4,5-billion, and needs R46-million a year. It hosts a Premier Soccer League double-header next week and hopes the government will subsidise operating costs initially.

Despite a wave of football patriotism, even the South African Football Association and PSL are also disappointed.

The situation is compounded by current PSL ticket prices of R20 — with 18 games equalling the revenue from one rugby play-off — against high rents at venues where commercial rights like hospitality are not passed down.

“We were never party to the discussions to develop an understanding of what our programmes are going to be and what are the key challenges going forward,” said Safa chief executive Leslie Sedibe. — AFP

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