2022 Games is an opportunity lost

Sport is an incredible economic, social and cultural force for unity and progress. Picture: Gallo Images

The Afrikaans phrase “bedonderd”, a nonsensical bloody-mindedness, aptly describes the current national discourse.

Our body politic is all about insults, ad hominem attacks and bitter vitriol which are cascading down into the conversation at dinner tables and around the office water cooler.

It’s one of the reasons we should regret the meltdown surrounding the 2022 Commonwealth Games initially awarded to Durban.

The financial implications, as the main reason for pulling the plug on Durban as a host city, are understandable. But it’s an opportunity lost as a project that could have united us as a nation as was the case with the 2010 Soccer World Cup.

Durban was awarded the Games on September 2, 2015. It was a moment of great pride for our country, beating competition from Edmonton, Alberta in Canada to host the first competition on African soil. We’d even planned for the Games to open on July 18, 2022, to coincide with the birthday of Nelson Mandela.

The timing was intended to act as a statement to the world that spoke of our collective ambitions for life in South Africa after apartheid. Taking Mandela as inspiration would show a nation that had banded together, in spite of many political differences, to work towards a better future for all.

Unfortunately on March 13, Durban announced that financial problems would mean South Africa would not be holding the 2022 Games. On the same day that the baton relay for the 2018 Games begun, David Grevemberg of the Commonwealth Games Federation said Durban was unable to meet the criteria set by his organisation.

We have been officially stripped of the Games. The search for a new host city has already begun.

I view the loss of Durban 2022 as a huge loss to South Africa, and a bit of a wake-up call for all of us. Durban had been awarded the Games as a result of faith in our nation’s National Development Plan (NDP).

Upon appointment, Durban and South Africa were praised for their diversity, determination towards working for racial equality and economic vibrancy. Obviously this isn’t the view of the international community any more.

What is even sadder is that we’ve a history of using large sporting events to promote social cohesion, so the loss of Durban 2022 represents the loss of a great opportunity to reinvigorate efforts to unite us all.

Take the South African Football World Cup in 2010. In the lead-up, South Africa banded together to work towards a common goal. Our construction industry flourished, building five new stadiums across the country and upgrading existing facilities for a total of 10 hosting venues. In all nine host cities, our transportation networks vastly improved.

The opening ceremony saw praise for the South African people from President Jacob Zuma, Desmond Tutu, Mexican president Felipe Calderon, Prince Albert of Monaco and UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon.

The vuvuzelas in the stands became a worldwide symbol of our nation bound together in noisy celebration.

Life was good in South Africa and now we’ve lost out on the chance to recapture that feeling.

The lasting impacts of international sporting events go much further than the match results. Sport is an incredible economic, social and cultural force for unity and progress.

In the first four years following the World Cup, R82m was allocated to education, health and capacity building projects by the 2010 Legacy Trust. In the same time, the trust accrued R72m in interest, becoming a self-sustaining resource that will benefit South Africans for decades to come.

Such an uplift in national pride is not something unique to South Africa or sport in fact. Historic events, such as the moon landing or the fall of the Berlin Wall, have often elicited huge feelings of national enthusiasm and a call to action for populations.

The election campaign of the US’s first black presidential candidate in 2008 is one such example that represented a large-scale rising of hope within a nation. Barack Obama’s 2008 vote count (69.5 million) is the highest number ever won by a president.

A little more recently, the London 2012 Olympic Games resulted in significant job creation, investment in grassroots sport and urban regeneration for the UK – creating a feel good factor that motivated action up and down the country.

We had the chance to create that feeling of national enthusiasm once again with Durban 2022, but we’ve gone and blown it. We’ve blown it because we are a nation that’s incredibly divided on all fronts – politically, racially and socio-economically. As far away from the Commonwealth’s values as possible.

We must now work harder than ever to recapture a sense of pride in our country. We must find methods of improving the value of the rand, enabling the less fortunate among us to afford the goods and services they need.

We need to correct unemployment rates – the 13-year high of 27.1% is not acceptable. And we need to find a way for our politicians to cease squabbling in office, in the press and on social media and actually get the work done.

Without the ability to work together we cannot hope to achieve the benchmarks set out in the NDP. We will not reach our education targets and produce the doctors and engineers that will see our economy into the future.

We cannot embrace the Fourth Industrial Revolution without this support and we need an “all in” approach to realise it.

As South Africans we must learn from the loss of Durban 2022, to overlook what divides us and recapture the pride we know we can feel in our nation.

We’ve done it before and we can do it again.

Moegsien Williams

Moegsien Williams is editor-in-chief of The New Age