The beautiful game kicks off its world tournament in South Africa a mere 29 days from now. The last two years have seen en enormous boom in construction as the country prepares itself for the massive undertaking that is hosting the World Cup. FIFA, football’s governing body, has put an immense amount of faith, as well as funds, in South Africa to deliver. The completion of five new stadiums in Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth, Nelspruit, and Polokwane and the refurbishment of five other stadiums have cost somewhere in the region of 1.57 billion dollars.
While the country’s construction industry has created jobs for the local communities at a difficult time in their economy, the promise of those jobs being there after the final whistle on July 7 is an all-together precarious situation. Since South Africa was announced as the tournament’s host, fears have been raised as to what will happen when the competition is over. To South Africa, the gift of this “white elephant” opportunity to host the World Cup for the first time in its history may be both a blessing and a curse.
That the country needed new and improved stadiums was never in question. The existing stadiums were not up to World Cup snuff and FIFA designated that there needed to be at least 10 stadiums available to host. While this may be a sufficient reason to build more, some stadiums were already available. Cape Town and Durban both house adequate rugby stadiums that hold 50,000 seats, yet both cities chose to build new stadiums. Cape Town’s extravagant new 68,000 seat Greenpoint stadium is sandwiched between the Atlantic Ocean and Table Mountain, an indisputably gorgeous backdrop, but at what price?
The newly erected stadium in Port Elizabeth, the country’s fifth largest city, has neither a Premier League football nor Super 15 rugby team, yet the city’s World Cup director is convinced that becoming a white elephant is not in the cards. Predicting a flourishing business comprised of exhibition games, concerts, and conferences is quite the tall order. Despite the magnificent facility’s appeal, relying on an “if you build it, the stars will come” mentality is extremely optimistic.
While the World Cup is poised to display South Africa at its best, being a contemporary and burgeoning nation, on the brink of climbing out of poverty into the lofty ideals of democracy and capitalism, the 1.57 billion dollar question is still not answered. On the one hand, the opportunity to build these stadiums and host the competition has created jobs and a boom in tourism to boost the country’s economy, but the expansive top-of-the-line technology stadiums sit next to impoverished cities.
The 46,000-seat, $100 million stadium in Nelspruit will be used for four matches, while the local residents live in condemnable housing with no clean water or proper sanitation. Needless to say, the local communities are uneasy about the future of these imposing stadiums with either a small team or no team at all to occupy them after the World Cup is over. It would seem, in this case, that these white elephants are indeed a curse rather than a blessing.