EDITORIAL: Spooked by a dismal outlook
No matter how wonderful our rugby grounds and how good our bid, the outlook for SA is murky
Not everyone in SA is disappointed that the country failed to win its bid to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup. Some South Africans were concerned it would just be another opportunity for looting; others couldn’t see why SA should be hosting parties for the world to enjoy.
For many, however, it has come as a huge disappointment that SA has lost out to France. That it would have been a thrill for the rugby fans is the least of it. The boost to the economy and tourism could have been significant and SA surely needs that now and into the future.
Globally, the impact of these megasport events is the subject of debate, because the cost to the governments of host countries is often sizeable and the returns are sometimes questionable.
But SA’s hosting of the 1995 Rugby World Cup was hugely important in putting the new democracy on the world’s radar screen and unifying a nation. And our experience of hosting the 2010 Fifa World Cup was an extremely positive one, economically as well as socially.
THE FAILED WORLD CUP BID DEMONSTRATES YET AGAIN HOW SA’S REPUTATION HAS FALLEN.
SA recovered from the Great Recession more strongly than many other economies, thanks to the investment that was going into the stadiums and infrastructure for the 2010 World Cup, as well as the confidence and nation-building boost it provided. The government spent about R30bn on preparations to host the tournament, but it was estimated afterwards that the event had attracted more than 300,000 foreign tourists and pumped as much as R93bn into the domestic economy.
It provided a catalyst for the building of much-needed public transport and other infrastructure. SA’s success as a host did much to promote it as a destination for tourism and for foreign investment. That the country’s leadership wasted that capital and presided over a slow slide in the economy in the years after 2010 is tragic.
This time, less investment would have been needed, given that SA already has the world-class stadiums built or upgraded for 2010. And, indeed, the independent evaluation report commissioned by World Rugby identified SA’s as the leading bid on technical grounds, ahead of France and Ireland.
But World Rugby’s council members voted in favour of France instead — with even Rugby Africa’s two delegates voting against SA, which seemed not to have brought them into the process or lobbied them or, apparently, any other delegates.
The outcome is embarrassing for World Rugby itself because this was the first time it had commissioned and publicised an independent technical report in an effort to make the process more transparent and get rid of perceptions of corruption or cronyism. "No one doubts France will put on a good show, but at what cost to rugby’s reputation for transparency and integrity?" asked one UK newspaper.
In the end, the council opted not just for the host that would be more lucrative and better suited to its own self-interest, but was seen as more fiscally and politically stable. And that, really, is the sad lesson for SA. No matter how wonderful our rugby grounds and how good our bid, the outlook for SA is murky — and that surely must have spooked World Rugby’s council members. That SA seems to have failed in the politics of building relationships with them, including with its own African peers, didn’t help.
The failed World Cup bid demonstrates yet again how SA’s reputation has fallen and how urgently its politics and its economy need to be fixed.
It is also a bitter reminder of how as a country we have squandered the unifying opportunities presented by 1995 and 2010. The transformation achievements of rugby are dismal; had SA won the bid, it would not have been a major nation-building opportunity in any case.
And given the current poor state of South African rugby, it’s no consolation that the last time France hosted the Rugby World Cup in 2007, SA triumphed.