JOHANNESBURG - South Africa's World Cup
stadiums have stunned the globe's largest sporting audience with
audacious style although critics say a developing country can
ill afford such extravagance and some will be white elephants.
When South Africa won the right to stage the tournament six
years ago, the stadium budget was 3 billion rand ($396 million).
After including two more arenas and some dazzling structural
additions, that figure is now widely put at about 18 billion.
Of the 10 stadiums, five are brand new and one, the flagship
Soccer City in Johannesburg, was completely revamped.
Soccer City and the five new stadiums are all
architecturally impressive and stand comparison with any venue
in the world. There is no doubt the architects achieved their
aim of impressing a global audience.
"People are sitting in Denmark and France and the UK saying,
'That stadium looks a hell of a lot better than anything we've
got here, and it looks like it works'," said John Mackie, head
of African investments at Stanlib asset management company.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter lavished praise on the stadiums,
last week, saying they were better than those in Europe.
"These stadiums are jewels from the architectural point of
view. They are really, really good stadiums," he said.
South Africa is the continent's biggest economy but the
question is whether it could afford so much when it has an army
of poor and huge crime problems fuelled by some of the world's
greatest wealth disparities, not to mention an HIV pandemic.
"You see how much we have spent on building stadiums but,
after the World Cup, what are we going to benefit? There are
still so many problems, no jobs, people living in shacks," said
Siyabonga Zulu, 35, an unemployed man in Soweto township.
"When you build enormous stadia you are shifting those
resources... from building schools and hospitals and then you
have these huge structures standing empty," the late
anti-apartheid campaigner Dennis Brutus said last year.
But there is another side to the argument, which sees the
stadiums as much more than mere sporting venues.
Their supporters view the arenas as a way to reverse images
of pestilence and war that still blight the continent and to
affirm the potential of a young, democratic nation so often
beset by self doubt.
The new stadiums certainly go beyond what is strictly
necessary to host a match.
From the cavernous Soccer City, shaped like a giant African
calabash or bowl, to the soaring arch and sky train over
Durban's ocean-side venue, to Cape Town's majestic arena backed
by Table Mountain and Port Elizabeth's petal-shrouded bowl, they
There is a more difficult question for organisers and that
is what will happen to the stadiums after the fans have all gone
home and whether they were built in the right place.
There was controversy in Cape Town, for example, at the
decision to build the graceful bath-shaped stadium in the
affluent tourist district of the city, apparently because of
FIFA's insistence on a spectacular location.
The previous plan was to upgrade the existing Athlone
stadium in the poor Cape Flats area, thus attracting more
infrastructure spending there.
Most controversial are the small but still imaginatively
designed arenas in the northern cities of Nelspruit and
Polokwane, with no rugby or football team within hundreds of km.
Local officials say there are management plans for all the
stadiums and those two will host concerts, religious meetings
and the like as well as sport.
But while most experts believe Durban, Cape Town and Soccer
City have a good chance of a profitable future in popular
tourist cities with large populations, Nelspruit, Polokwane and
possibly Port Elizabeth will struggle to make money.
Soccer City will host a Tri-Nations rugby match next month
between South Africa and New Zealand and future local games -
with the additional social benefit of drawing white rugby fans
into Soweto township and boosting racial reconciliation.
Durban, whose arch-spanned stadium may be the most
breathtaking, is part of a large sporting precinct in a general
city beautification project unashamedly tilting at the 2020 or
Supporters of the grandiose stadiums say they are an
essential part of one of the World Cup's biggest benefits, the
rebranding of South Africa for longer-term investment that will
eventually repay the costs.
"With all the negative things that are taking place in
Africa, this is a superb moment for us. If we are going to have
white elephants, so be it," said Nobel peace prize laureate
Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
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