Thursday, July 1, 2010

Episode 16: Finding use for new stadiums will prove an uphill climb

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Finding use for new stadiums will prove an uphill climb
By Ingi Salgado

South Africa has spent nearly 2.75 billion dollars building five soccer stadiums and upgrading another five for the World Cup, but the total bill could escalate if alternative uses for the venues do not bring in enough cash to run operations.

Fears are mounting that local stadiums, especially those in smaller cities, may incur substantial operating losses in the years ahead.

"It's going to be a tremendous challenge when you have as many new stadiums as South Africa has," said Barry Pollen, the director of Stadium Management South Africa, which has been appointed to run the country's calabash-shaped Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg. "If there is no population, then it will be very difficult to attract people."

Stan du Plessis, an economics professor at the University of Stellen-bosch, said it was "implausible" that the smaller new stadiums in Nelspruit, Polokwane and Port Elizabeth would be able to cover their operational costs, let alone provide a decent return on investment to cover construction costs. "They don't have the crowds. The teams may be there, but the question is if they have enough supporters. Premier Soccer League attendance is low outside the very big clubs," he said.

So far, only four local stadiums - none of which were built from scratch - are on track to remain productive assets after the last whistle is blown next week.

Three of them, Ellis Park in Johannesburg, Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria and Free State in Bloem-fontein, have the support of established rugby franchises that boast committed crowds.

The fourth, Soccer City, has opted not to secure a soccer tenant team because it erodes its ability to host finals. But its future is nevertheless more secure than its cousins in outlying areas because of its status.

It will be rebranded as the National Stadium after the World Cup, and will host a variety of sporting events, as well as conferences, weddings, birthday bashes, funerals - "anything we can fit in", says Pollen.

But prospects at the other stadiums are less certain.

In Cape Town and Durban, authorities have thus far been unable to tempt provincial rugby teams to sign on as anchor tenants at the 620 million dollar Green Point Stadium or the 425 million dollar Moses Mabhida Stadium.

In the case of the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks, a 47-year lease at neighbouring Kings Park stands in the way, while Western Province rugby's affiliated clubs have voted to remain at the ground they own in Newlands because it is commercially "more beneficial".

However, in Port Elizabeth, a good relationship with the Eastern Province Rugby Union may not be enough to sufficiently fill the 290 million dollar Nelson Mandela Stadium's 44 000 seats.

The prospects appear bleaker for other stadiums that have no clubs signed on, such as the 165 million dollar Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit and the 180 million dollar Peter Mokaba Stadium in Polokwane.

Durban city manager Mike Sutcliffe recently indicated that the host cities faced enormous funding issues. "If I'm battling in a big city, I'd hate to know what my colleagues are doing in Polokwane and Mbombela," he told Parliament.

The municipalities that own the stadiums are likely to land up with annual operational expenses amounting to millions of dollars.

The most expensive stadium to run is certain to be the 95 000-capacity Soccer City, whose annual operational and maintenance costs Pollen estimates at 4 million dollars. "Stadiums are very expensive to operate and maintain. They have to generate a lot of revenue," he said.

To help pull in cash, stadium management will more than likely seek to host musical, cultural and religious events, but the relative infrequency of such gatherings rules them out as a substantial source of income. Other possible uses include housing conference centres, shopping centres and restaurants.

Du Plessis said that if there was no realistic prospect of recovering costs in the immediate future, then a "perfectly sensible" solution would be to knock down the stadiums. "You don't have to keep on paying the bill," he said. But this was an unlikely option because of the political embarrassment demolition would cause in a country with pressing development needs, he believed.

Tearing down a stadium may seem extreme, but is not unheard of. South Korea resorted to demolishing its Dong-dae-mun Stadium after the 2002 World Cup co-hosted with Japan.

Concerns about being stranded with white elephants have dogged the hosting of most major global sporting events in recent decades as specially built venues struggle to attract the kind of crowds that would keep them operational. London, host to the 2012 Olympics, is anxiously considering proposals to turn the 1.15 Billion dollar East London Stadium into a music venue, or to secure West Ham United as anchor football tenants after the games.

One thing is certain, without concerted and creative steps to guarantee their future use, most of South Africa's new stadiums will lie idle, further eating into strained municipal finances.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Episode 15: Bend it Like Imperialism

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Bend it Like Imperialism

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by BAR columnist Jared A. Ball, Ph.D.

So many Black American entertainers and luminaries flocked to the World Cup opening ceremonies in South Africa, one veteran activist was prompted to remark that "these folks are crossing the picket line." It is a line that separates South Africa's poor Black majority from the real beneficiaries of the "gold" - "the soccer elites of FIFA, the elites of domestic and international corporate capital and the political elites who are making billions and who will be benefiting at the expense of the poor."

"These stadiums are encased in a 'Ring of Steel' to protect audiences from 'unpatriotic citizens' of South Africa."

Today, June 16, marks the 34th anniversary of the South African Soweto uprising where thousands of African youth took to the streets and where hundreds would die at the hands of the South African police and military. Today, June 16, also marks the first anniversary of that uprising to take place during the first ever World Cup on the African continent. These competing, colliding commemorations and events stand in violent opposition to one another precisely because the World Cup is corporate-sponsored spectacle playing on our emotions in the hopes that we will not realize or will ignore those who try to force realization, that the causes of the Soweto uprising, indeed the very existence of a Soweto or a South Africa, remain, are even worse now than 34 years ago. So bad are these conditions today that in response to seeing so many Black American entertainers participating in the World Cup opening ceremonies one veteran activist remarked to me that "these folks are crossing the picket line."

No one at all familiar with the history of the labor movement can hear lightly this kind of condemnation. To cross any picket line, that is, to become a "scab" is to betray the struggle of your kind, of your class. And this is precisely what major events such as the World Cup demand of its participants. And everyone did. Hugh Masekela was there to briefly blow his once defiant horn, as was John Legend and the Black Eyed Peas fresh off their Obama inauguration performance where they omitted their lyrics about the CIA being terrorists. Shakira was there in her grass skirt wiggling her light/white Latin Americanness before the world and from within the "Dark Continent" no less! And, of course, there was K'Naan the talented Somali rapper who foolishly accepts invitations from white liberals to bash Black Americans as not really being that oppressed while himself selling his liberation song Wavin' Flag to Coca-Cola to be used as the World Cup theme song absent, naturally, of its lyrical references to Somali suffering. And all the while his fellow continental Africans, who he cannot dismiss as having it as easy as their American cousins, do not have their concerns addressed either.

"Since the "fall of apartheid" White income has risen 24% while that of Black Africans has actually dropped."

So no mention of the 20,000 poor removed from stadium sites into even smaller slums. No mention that these stadiums are encased in a "Ring of Steel" to protect audiences from "unpatriotic citizens" of South Africa whose presence alone, never mind any actual protest, might heighten too many contradictions. No mention either of the 22 million Africans in South Africa who live as squatters, and have no potable water. Or the 14 million who are unemployed, or that 43% live ith less than $2 a day. And no mention that Black South African men earn what equates to $320 a month while White men earn $2,600 or that Whites as 12% of the population still hold 74% of private sector jobs, control over 80% of the land and all of the military. Further, no mention can be made of the fact that since the "fall of apartheid" White income has risen 24% while that of Black Africans has actually dropped. Of course, this is aided by the embedded model of journalism where the World Cup governing body FIFA has right of refusal to any journalist accreditations should anyone be so foolish as to actually attempt to report any of this. This will also be helpful in preventing the world from becoming aware of the fact that most of the products being sold at the World Cup are Chinese or that FIFA owns all the merchandising rights which has led one writer to explain that, "This World Cup is not for the poor - it is the soccer elites of FIFA, the elites of domestic and international corporate capital and the political elites who are making billions and who will be benefiting at the expense of the poor."

And though few will see or hear of them protests are being organized and efforts to break through the televised fa├žade will continue. One such effort is coming from the Socialist Party of Azania (SOPA) whose statement in promotion of a call to join them June 16 in South Africa to commemorate the 1976 Soweto uprising says: "Therefore, our call comes at a time when the subtle and insidious mechanism of State is used to good effect by the Capitalist Overlords to ensure the willing obedience and subservience of the working-class through a twisted vocalization of what they claim is a "universal message of equality, love and justice" wrapped up in massive sports jamborees, coupled with the subtle threat that "...if we do not believe and promote their message, then we are evil and will be dealt with in ways that we cannot begin to imagine..."
In the meantime, I like many Black onlookers, will continue to watch and root for teams along the following lines: against all teams of the West, then for the teams with the most Black players and so on down the line and ultimately only for those whose struggles continue and remain ignored.

For Black Agenda Radio, I'm Jared Ball. Online go to www.BlackAgendaReport.com

Jared Ball can be reached at jared.ball@morgan.edu

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Episode 14: Patrick Bond Interview Part 5

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Patrick Bond is a political economist with longstanding research interests and NGO work in urban communities and with global justice movements in several countries. He teaches political economy and eco-social policy at SDS, directs the Centre for Civil Society and is involved in research on economic justice, energy and water.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Episode 13: Patrick Bond Interview Part 4

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Patrick Bond is a political economist with longstanding research interests and NGO work in urban communities and with global justice movements in several countries. He teaches political economy and eco-social policy at SDS, directs the Centre for Civil Society and is involved in research on economic justice, energy and water.