Not only could those briefing the media on Durban’s withdrawal as 2022 Commonwealth Games host not be bothered to show up on time, there was not an ounce of accountability to be found for the millions wasted on a bid that many believe never should have happened. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.
If only Minister of Sport and Recreation, Fikile Mbalula, channelled some of his usual bluster to discuss the loss of Durban as host city of the 2022 Commonwealth Games, we might actually have gotten some answers on how things were allowed to go so badly wrong. Or, at the very least, perhaps things would have started on time.
Originally scheduled for 11:00 on Tuesday, the minister and other representatives arrived nearly an hour and a half late. Mbalula started the press conference with a prepared statement expressing “regret” that Durban was withdrawn.
He said that the withdrawal of Durban centred around a financial disagreement that came down to, “expectation that the South African Government will have to provide more than what cabinet had approved could not be sustained in the current economic environment”.
Mbalula insisted that they acted “in the best interest of South Africa” and that the money approved for the Games – R4.32-billion – “would have been enough for Commonwealth Games in 2022”.
But in order to get the Games, South Africa still had to go through an arduous process on which it spent a pretty penny – reportedly around R118 million. The committee also sent a full delegation to Auckland when the host – for which the country was the sole bidder – was announced.
Those present at the presser pussyfooted around the issue of the wasted funds with Alec Moemi, Director-General of Sport and Recreation saying the amount spent on the bid was “less than what Cape Town spent bidding for the Olympics a few years ago”.
While this is true – the reported figure for Cape Town’s failed 2004 Olympics bid was $22 million (over R220 million in today’s money), this was funded by the private sector, not Sascoc and Lottery funding, as the bulk of the 2022 Commonwealth Games was.
And nobody seems to be ready to be held accountable for the failure.
It didn’t take long for the Democratic Alliance to chip in. The opposition party released a statement mid-press conference saying that Mbalula should “account to Parliament as to why he chose to ignore the very obvious signs that South Africa was simply not financially ready to host this event and provide a detailed breakdown of the costs that were incurred during the bidding process”.
It also says that the R4-billion budgeted was “not nearly enough” to host the event.
Despite this clearly catastrophic failure – and money poured down the drain, Sascoc CEO Tubby Reddy had the audacity to claim “we cannot spend money we don’t have”.
It is especially staggering when the country’s Olympic hopefuls have to routinely pay out of their own pockets to attend championships. Tony Alkana, a South African hurdler, had to rely on his parents selling boerewors rolls to help get him to Rio. Chad Ho, the open water swimmer who won gold at the Fina World Championships in 2015, had to crowdfund his trip. These athletes’ experiences are the rule rather than the exception. Almost every single athlete who hopes to compete at the Olympics and who are not on one of Sascoc’s “contracts” have to pay out of their own pockets to attend events and work their way through Olympic qualification.
The lack of accountability – and even the complete and utter lack of will to even acknowledge the money wasted – is galling, but hardly surprising from two organisations who have shown nothing but contempt for the sport, despite being entrusted with their well-being.
What we don’t know yet is what will happen to the funds that were budgeted for the Games. Judging by the apathy shown in the press conference on Tuesday, it sure as hell won’t be going to anyone who needs it. DM