“Any loss of money is regrettable. Don’t take it that R118 million lost means nothing; it means a lot. We went out of our way to secure the games – but not at all costs. We cannot say to government that it must spend money it did not have‚” said Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula – with more than a touch of irony – in a press conference aimed at clarifying the mess around Durban losing out on hosting the 2022 Commonwealth Games.
In reality, all the presser achieved was to highlight glaring technical deficiencies in government – surely every South African worth his pap and vleis knows that the economic horizon isn’t exactly inviting? – and the astounding ability of politicians and administrators to absolve themselves of all blame. Durban seems to have just about dodged a R4,2 billion bullet, but the R118 million flesh wound still smarts.
For me, the overarching issue here is why the games still exist in the first place. The quadrennial event is a faintly embarrassing sporting tribute to the colonial master governed by a well-meaning, but ineffectual, sprawling organisation with a clear leadership vacuum. Entertainment value and “we’re all in it together” perks aside, the economic benefits of the Games are dubious, what with infrastructure white elephants and irregular spending.
The R4,2 billion that was approved for the Games is a staggering sum to fork out for anglophiles to sip Earl Grey and nibble on watercress sandwiches while taking in a game of bowls. The alarm bells should have started ringing long before a full delegation was sent to New Zealand and it became clear that Durban, the so-called “last outpost of the British Empire”, was the sole contender. Certainly, well before R118 million was diverted from solving the pressing socio-economic challenges we face in South Africa.