12 October 2009
The decision by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to give Rio de Janeiro the right to host the 31st Olympiad in 2016 has raised South Africa’s hopes of hosting the event in 2020.
The Fifa football World Cup and the summer Olympic Games – the two biggest sporting events on the planet – are now to be held in Africa and South America for the first time.
And with Brazil hosting the next edition of the football World Cup in 2014, the southern hemisphere has certainly staked its claim for hosting mega-sporting events.
These endorsements also bear testimony to Brazil and South Africa’s growing stature in the international arena, and have raised the hopes of hundreds of millions of people who desperately need the cash injection that these events provide.
There are other interesting parallels between the two countries. Firstly, Rio twice previously failed to make the IOC shortlist for earlier Olympics, while Cape Town failed in its bid to host the event in 2004.
With hindsight, we can be grateful that South Africa lost out on that bid, because it may have drained the cash reserves needed to back a second major sporting event.
Similarly, we were fortunate to lose the rights to host the 2006 World Cup to Germany (by the narrowest margin in Fifa’s history) because we would never have been ready to stage the tournament in time.
Looking forward, South Africa’s chances of hosting the 2020 Olympics will depend on next year’s World Cup, but there is a growing consensus that it will be a safe and successful event.
Three cities – Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg – would all be in the running, largely thanks to the new world-class stadiums and facilities that are nearing completion.
However, Durban is emerging as the front-runner among the three, because it has incorporated its Olympic plans into its 2010 preparations. Like Melbourne, city planners aim to turn Durban into a sporting mecca, with the Olympic Games the ultimate target.
The new Moses Mabhida stadium – framed by an extraordinary arch – will have capacity for 70 000 for the World Cup but can be expanded to 85 000 for events like the Olympics or the Commonwealth Games.
Over the next few years, the port city will become one of the few cities in Africa where most of the main Olympic sporting codes can be played in a centrally located, international standard destination.
In addition, the city has already secured the rights to host the 2011 congress of the International Olympic Committee, the first to be held in Africa.
“There is this perception that the world ends after 2010, but we have never ever seen that,” says Julie-May Ellingson, who heads the city’s 2010 project. “Going right back to 2004, we spoke of 2010 and beyond.”
Irrespective of whether South Africa will host the Olympic Games, the 2010 World Cup has given it the opportunity to stake a serious claim.
Urquhart is a former Fifa World Cup media officer and the current editor of Project 2010