More than a game

Durban is the only city in the running to host the 2022 Commonwealth Games, after the only other candidate the Canadian city of Edmonton withdrew its bid in a decision to give priority to other sectors in need of funding. Following procedure, members of the Commonwealth Federation will travel to Durban in the coming months to evaluate the adequacy of the intended sporting venues, as well as the city itself in terms of transport and recreational facilities. The evaluation report will then be presented at the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) General Assembly to be held in September later this year, where it will be put to the vote by the committee of representatives from each participating country.

Should Durban succeed in winning more than 50 percent of the vote, it will become the first African city to host the Commonwealth Games, an event that has taken place every four years since 1930 with the aim to “develop sport for the benefit of the people, the nations and the territories of the Commonwealth”, as stated in the CGF Constitution. The Commonwealth is a voluntary association which today includes 53 countries, the majority of which were colonial territories of the British Empire.

South Africa joined the Commonwealth Games, then known as the British Empire Games, at its inception, followed by a period of exclusion from the Games in an act of condemnation toward the unjust policies of the apartheid government which barred the participation of non-white athletes in such an event. This changed in 1994 when local athletes of all races were allowed to participate in the Games held in Victoria, Canada, as representatives of a newly democratic South Africa.

Despite the progress that has been made in the past two decades, many South African citizens have yet to experience the benefits of this transformation and instead continue to live below the poverty line with insufficient assistance from the government. This raises the question: is South Africa, and specifically the city of Durban, in the financial position to fund a ‘mega-event’ such as the Commonwealth Games given that basic service delivery is lacking for many citizens?

South Africa has hosted many international sports events, most prominently the 2010 Fifa World Cup. This cost big money: $2.4 billion was spent in the construction of 10 stadia, as well as improvements in public transport and recreational facilities. The event gave rise to patriotism and a shared optimism for the future of South Africa, giving tourists and international spectators a positive and welcoming representation of post-apartheid South Africa.

The 2010 World Cup was named Fifa’s “most profitable tournament to date” generating a total of $29 billion, according to Moneyweb. However, much of these earnings went to the organiser, as is stipulated in the agreement where the host country “takes no share of television, marketing deals or ticketing – the mega-event’s main money spinners – and shoulders the cost of new sports stadia and related infrastructure.” This made the event an overall loss for South Africa and previous host nations who continue to spend exorbitant funds in maintaining the under used stadia built for the World Cup.

This is where hosting the Commonwealth Games will differ, as the city of Durban is already fully equipped with the necessary sporting facilities that are all located within 2.5 kilometres of the main venue, Moses Mabhida Stadium. The only venue to be built from scratch will be the athletes’ village, made up of apartment blocks that will later be converted into housing units for low to moderate income earners who qualify for a housing subsidy. The R3.5 billion event is also expected to help fast-track ongoing development in constructing an Integrated Rapid Public Transport Network (IRPTN) to be ready for use by locals and the 150,000 to 200,000 visitors expected to descend upon on the city.

Overall, it would seem that unlike the Fifa World Cup, hosting the Commonwealth Games will be advantageous for a developing city such as Durban, in that it will facilitate progress and leave a lasting legacy not only in sports development and tourism, but in the “delivery of infrastructure in certain nodal points to create shared social spaces” that will improve the future prospects of the city’s residents, most especially the previously disadvantaged.


Rolan Gulston is an editorial intern at UrbanAfrica.Net. She is based in Durban, South Africa, and is a graduate of the UKZN Centre for Communication, Media & Society (CCMS). She is an aspiring journalist, hoping to make a meaningful contribution in the field of development communication with a particular interest in satire.

Photo: the Kings Park Rugby Stadium. Rolan Gulston.



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