30 September 2009
Built slap-bang in the middle of Port Elizabeth’s inner city, and with its white sail-like roof cladding, the 46 500-seater Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium makes for a very impressive sight – but there’s more to its design than aesthetics.
The city is renowned for the friendly nature of the locals – but also for its constant high winds, an element which, for a stadium about to host the 2010 Fifa World Cup, doesn’t make for the best football conditions.
“The stadium is compact in nature – the wind, which is all too common in this city, will hit the roof and be deflected off, ensuring that fans and players have the best possible experience in the stadium,” explains 2010 World Cup host city coordinator Errol Heynes.
When South Africa’s first built-from-scratch World Cup stadium opened in June 2009 after just 26 months of construction, the weather was not optimal, but inside the stadium it was an oasis of calm.
It is the first time that Port Elizabeth/Nelson Mandela Bay has had a facility capable of hosting major events, and football and rugby matches already played in the stadium have attracted near-capacity crowds.
“The stadium is already hugely popular – the people of Port Elizabeth are huge sports fans,” says Heyns, adding: “Last Saturday alone we hosted three rugby matches here.
The stadium precinct
“All that remains to be done now is for us to finalise upgrades to our transport network to get fans to and from the games, to firm up accommodation requirements, and to complete work on the [stadium] precinct.”
As part of the precinct development plans, the crane path, used by the cranes to hoist the 36 roof girders that make up the stadium’s magnificent roof structure, will become a cycle and running track around the stadium, and the plan is to extend this track around North End lake as well.
There is also talk of putting fountains in the lake to further beautify the area.
For 61-year-old Major Pikoli, born and bred in the area, who for many years worked in a factory a stone’s throw from the stadium, it is in the perfect place to host football’s greatest showpiece event.
“It is right in the middle of the city – easily accessible for all people of Nelson Mandela Bay. As a rugby and football player of many years, it is amazing to think that my city now has such an amazing stadium, right in the North End,” says Pikoli, who 10 years ago set up his own football club in the city. Today his club fields three teams, largely made up of street children.
No doubt Port Elizabeth will be a popular host city in 2010. With a mild climate and excellent beaches, there is also no shortage of attractions within a short drive of the city.
The Eastern Cape university town of Grahamstown, just over an hour’s drive from Nelson Mandela Bay, will host the National Arts Festival, said to be the second largest in the world after Edinburgh Festival in Scotland, concurrently with the World Cup.
Shuttle buses will be on hand to transport visitors between the two cities.
Plans are also on the table to host the annual Knysna Oyster Festival and the Jeffrey’s Bay Shell Festival, both within driving distance of the city, at the same time.
There are also a number of malaria-free game reserves just a short drive from the city, a sure-bet attraction for visitors making their first trip to the continent.