JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, Jul 19 – South Africa’s turn as World Cup hosts in 2010 left the country with 10 world-class stadiums and an influx of tourists — but also vast bills to pay.
Eight years on, the tournament is also held up as a rare moment of national unity in a country still deeply divided 24 years after the end of apartheid.
Deputy sports minister Gert Oosthuizen still brims with pride at the organisation of the first World Cup to be held on African soil.
“We built stadiums and infrastructure. We were way ahead of schedule, everything went perfectly, everything was in place,” he said. “From that perspective it did give South Africa a great mark in the world.”
“But it was much more than that. More important was the nation-building and the social cohesion that we achieved. We felt proudly South African — and simply African.”
To prepare for the most-widely watched event on the planet, the government of the day spent 30 billion rands (3 billion euros, $3.53 billion in today’s money) on roads, airports, stadiums and other infrastructure.
The impact was felt almost immediately with a boost to economic growth as well as 60,000 new jobs created just from the construction of the 10 stadiums.
From June 1 to July 11 when the tournament finished, South Africa welcomed 1.4 million foreign visitors — compared to 1.1 million a year earlier.
But did South Africa truly benefit once the fans’ noisy vuvuzela horns had been stored away and the FIFA bandwagon had moved on to Brazil?
“The returns were much higher than the spending — much, much higher,” said Gillian Saunders of the accountants Grant Thornton.
“There is a lot of infrastructure that we got like telecommunications, roads around the stadium areas that we wouldn’t have got,” she said, adding that there had been a subsequent “World Cup effect”.
– ‘Good for S.Africa’s image’ –
“It was a good marketing exercise, that had put us centre of the world stage — it was good for South Africa’s image and for tourism,” said Mike Schussler, director of market analysts Economists.co.za.
“But we didn’t make our money back from the use of stadiums. Some municipalities are left with a bill to pay — and they will be left for a long time.”
Following the tournament, the government handed control of the stadiums to their respective city councils — including responsibility for maintenance.
Those in the major cities like Cape Town and Johannesburg fared better, finding use as concert venues, rugby grounds while still attracting national and international football.
Johannesburg outsourced the running of its ground to the private sector.
“The responsibility put on stadium managers is to commercialise the venues, attract events, generate revenue, maintain the venues to a world-standard and share profits with the municipality,” said the city’s sport supremo Siyanda Mnukwa. “The stadiums are not weighing heavily on the municipality.”
Elsewhere in South Africa, the stadiums have proved less productive.
– ‘It’s a burden’ –
“Initially we were told that the stadium will pay for itself — (but) it’s costing us between 15 and 18 million rand a year,” said Frank Haas, leader of the opposition in northeastern Polokwane.
“It’s a burden, whether we can justify to the community the almost 20 million rand a year, that’s actually the big question.”
For Oosthuizen, the deputy sports minister, the answer is an emphatic yes.
“We’re not talking billions here… It’s not like it’s draining the whole budget of little provinces or municipalities because of this monster that we have built,” he told AFP at his office in Pretoria.
“You must see it as a good investment, it is part of a legacy, an instrument of getting people together and showcasing what we can do as the African continent.”
Oosthuizen listed several tournaments hosted in South Africa since the World Cup — mostly minor affairs except for the 2013 Cup of African Nations.
In May nearly 85,000 packed into Johannesburg’s FNB Stadium, known as Soccer City when it hosted the 2010 World Cup final between Spain and the Netherlands, to watch an exhibition match that featured stars from Barcelona.
But South Africa has been reluctant to bid to host any other major sporting event on the level of the World Cup as it grapples with a sluggish economy.
The country even spurned the chance to host the 2022 Commonwealth games despite having already won the bid to do so.
The minister remains hopeful that South Africa will one day host the Rugby World Cup after missing out on the 2023 tournament.
Oosthuizen even has dreams of one day hosting the Olympics.
“We have the basics to host the big thing. That dream still lives on — but it would be largely determined by the economic circumstances,” he said.