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What will South Africa's World Cup stadiums be used for? Maybe nothing

Photo by Denis Farrell

Photo by Denis Farrell

JOHANNESBURG -- Too small for cricket and missing suites for rugby, the stadiums that cost South Africa more than $1 billion for this year's World Cup already are in danger of turning into white elephants.

Both rugby and cricket are more commercially successful than soccer in South Africa, and both sports need to move into the new stadiums -- built and renovated for Africa's first World Cup -- to stay financially healthy.

South African Rugby Union president Oregan Hoskins told members of parliament in Cape Town on Tuesday that there had been no discussions between Durban city officials and rugby representatives before the $400 million, 70,000-capacity Moses Mabhida Stadium was built, and now it did not have enough suites to accommodate the local suite holders for the Sharks rugby team.

Hoskins said that the Sharks, who compete in the annual Super Rugby competition and the domestic Currie Cup -- and who could offer near year-round use of the stadium -- would have a "massive problem" moving into it now.

"What we are discussing today should have been discussed before we built the stadiums," Hoskins said. "It is tragic for us as a nation that we have to act in reverse."

The situation in Cape Town is just as bad, according to Hoskins, because of the deteriorating relationship between the local Western Province rugby union and the Green Point Stadium operators. The South African Press Association quoted Western Province Rugby president Tobie Titus as saying that on the advice of an independent financial adviser, Western Province Rugby was staying at its current stadium, Newlands.

So the picturesque Green Point Stadium, set in the shadow of the famous Table Mountain, could now be rarely used while costing more than $6 million a year just to maintain.

Cricket South Africa chief executive Gerald Majola added that the fields at the stadiums were too small to host cricket games, and blamed that on the failure of cities to consult cricket authorities before construction.

Hoskins said the positive hype generated by the monthlong World Cup hid some of the problems the stadiums are now facing.

"In 2007, before the new stadiums were built, I wrote to the minister of sport and said I foresaw major problems coming and I asked for the intervention of the ministry," Hoskins told the committee. "Unfortunately, we were all taken up by the soccer World Cup and in the hype we forgot we should have been talking to each other."

"We want to use the new stadiums," Hoskins said. "We want to take the game to the people, but these issues are going to stand in our way in a big way."

In July, South African Football Association chief executive Leslie Sedibe acknowledged before the same parliamentary committee that his sport faced a major challenge to keep the stadiums in use and profitable -- largely due to traditionally low ticket prices charged at local matches and the high cost of running the world class arenas.

Sedibe's observation came just 10 days after the World Cup ended, and after South Africa spent an estimated $1.3 billion building and upgrading the 10 stadiums used for the tournament.

It was hoped rugby and cricket would help out.

Yet even as the world champion South African rugby team prepares to play its first international match at the 94,000-seat Soccer City in Johannesburg, the venue for the World Cup final, the assessments of Hoskins and Majola cast doubt on the stadiums' long-term future.

Majola said Cricket South Africa had been forced to seek special permission from the International Cricket Council to host a Twenty20 game between South Africa and India at the Moses Mabhida Stadium early next year, but it was a one-time agreement and the playing surface was still too small for major games.

He also pointed to a lost opportunity for cricket to move to World Cup stadiums in the northern cities of Rustenburg, Polokwane and Nelspruit, which are likely to struggle because of their remote locations and lack of major sports teams nearby.

"Historically, our game had not been played in some of the areas where some of stadiums were built," Majola said. "We saw an opportunity, but unfortunately we were not part of the designs of the stadiums.

"Unfortunately, we are compelled by the size of fields. When these fields were built, we were not part of that."