Durban’s stadium will be one of the most dazzling in the 2010 World Cup but the brash port’s ambition soars even higher, like the spectacular arch spanning the arena with a view across the Indian Ocean.
Intensely competitive with the more famous tourist mecca of Cape Town along the coast, Durban is pulling out all the stops to ensure nobody forgets it when the soccer World Cup is over.
Grimier but also more African than sophisticated, Europeanised Cape Town, Durban — which will host seven matches including a semi-final — markets itself on its miles of sandy beaches and the year-round warm weather that makes it a winter playground for South Africans.
City officials aim to turn Durban into Africa’s capital for sports, entertainment and other events and make no secret of their ultimate target — to host the Olympics.
A brochure prepared by Durban for the World Cup loses no time in pointing out that the stadium will have capacity for 70,000 people during the football festival but can be expanded to 85,000 for events like the Olympics or Commonwealth Games.
Julie-May Ellingson, the city official heading the 2010 project, said that although a decision whether to bid for the Olympics must be made by South Africa’s president, Durban had its eye on the 2020 or 2024 events.
“There is this perception that the world ends after 2010. In Durban we have never ever seen that. Going right back to 2004 we spoke of 2010 and beyond,” she told Reuters.
“It is not about what FIFA wants. FIFA will come and go. It’s about what is important for the citizens of Durban.”
The city has already won a contest to host the 2011 congress of the International Olympic Committee, the first to be held in Africa and a golden opportunity to court top officials.
To match its ambition, Durban is doing much more than building a stadium for the World Cup.
Sports facilities will be modernised and centralised in the expansive Kings Park precinct where both the new Moses Mabhida and existing rugby stadiums are situated.
“In the next few years, Durban 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,” a city handout says.
Plans include a retail mall and restaurants in the stadium, a walkway linking it to the adjacent beach, a “People’s Park,” training pitches, a walking and running track, and space for fans to enjoy barbecues and concerts before and after matches — an idea taken from the neighbouring Absa stadium.
But it is the new stadium itself that steals the eye. A gleaming white edifice topped by a Teflon-coated roof resembling sails, with the arch rising overhead to dominate the city.
The 350-metre (1,150 foot) long arch is shaped like the Y on South Africa’s flag, symbolising the unity of a long-divided nation.
To access the view a “sky car” will run up the single northern span to the 106 metre (348 foot) summit, while intrepid visitors can climb 550 steep steps up one southern arm and down the other in an “adventure walk” like Sydney’s harbour bridge.
For the even more adventurous, a bungee swing will be suspended from one of the concrete supporting rungs across the top of the stadium, whose material is intended to prevent dirt marring the brilliant white.
As with many of South Africa’s new stadiums, Durban has not escaped controversy over the decision to build a new arena right next to an existing one, with critics suggesting the money would have been better used to improve the lot of the nation’s army of poor and unemployed.
This controversy also feeds into the traditional rivalry between football — predominantly a black sport — and rugby which appeals more to whites.
So far the Sharks, one of the nation’s top rugby teams, have resisted overtures to eventually move to Moses Mabhida, but planners have made modifications in changing rooms and elsewhere to ensure it will be suitable for rugby, which brings in big revenue, to encourage them to change their minds.
Like all the cities building new stadiums, officials are well rehearsed in the arguments for spending huge amounts on a new arena — in the case of Durban 3 billion rand ($370.3 million).
In accordance with its aggressive ambition, Durban wanted a stadium that could compete with the best in the world for everything from sports to pop concerts to religious meetings — an essential part of the strategy to avoid it becoming a white elephant after 2010.
Remodelling the 52-year-old Absa rugby venue, at a cost of 800 million rand ($98.7 million), would never have achieved that, officials say.
“It became quite clear to us that we could throw as much money as we liked at the Absa stadium and we still would not have ended up with a world-class product to lead us into the future,” Ellingson said.
Most working class South Africans seem to agree, despite the eye-watering amounts that have been spent.
“We have to give people what they normally have in London and elsewhere and let them play in a good stadium. So they will go home and tell other people to come,” said Durban shuttle driver Joe Mboneni Ndlovu.
Despite all the drive and ambition, winning the Olympics will not be easy. FIFA boss Sepp Blatter had a strong personal commitment to bringing the World Cup to Africa and the tournament already rotates around the continents.
The International Olympic Committee has no such policy so South Africa would need to overcome intense competition from around the globe, which is another reason so much is hanging on how it performs in 2010.
Big problems with transport or accommodation, already highlighted by FIFA as concerns, or a major assault by South Africa’s notoriously violent criminals, and Durban’s ambition could come to nothing.
(Editing by Dave Thompson To query or comment on this story email firstname.lastname@example.org)
Â© Thomson Reuters 2009 All rights reserved.
AUTHOR: Barry Moody
DATED: 20th August 2009