Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

It won’t be easy to muster broad-based support within SA for the country’s bid to host the 2023 rugby World Cup, against competing bids from France and Ireland — notwithstanding deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa’s lyrical references to national unity and the rapidly fading memory of the Boks’ victory over the All Blacks in the dying minutes of the final in 1995.

As memories of Madiba rallying the nation in the Boks’ number-six jersey dwindle, some less-great memories of the nation’s dalliances with mega-sports events persist.

Most of us would rather forget the 2010 soccer World Cup’s price tag of about US$3.8bn — including $1.3bn spent on building stadiums.

The sting from that event lingers still, as the construction industry continues to smart from a R1.46bn collective fine for its role in colluding during the stadium-building bonanza, As penance, those companies are now being strong-armed into collectively spending another R1.5bn to transform the sector.

SA would also prefer not to be reminded that $10m from a "development fund" was diverted to the Caribbean — a payment which the Americans have deemed a bribe.

So do we really want this tournament on home turf, assuming we are in the bid to win it?

Taxpayers will also be quick to remind Ramaphosa and SA Rugby that while they paid for everything in the 2010 bid — the millions in airfares, bling fests and to build the stadiums — most citizens never get to see the splendour of the edifices their money built. That’s because most of these stadiums are little more than white elephants, costing immense amounts in electricity and water to keep going.

And it hardly needs to be pointed out that neither SA’s teetering sovereign credit rating nor its frail institutions can afford even a whiff of a new scandal at this point. And rugby, both locally and overseas, is not immune to corruption, especially when there is so much money to be made.

Jurie Roux, CEO of SA Rugby, says that SA Rugby could, with 2.9m seats, offer 400,000 places more than England did in its 2015 tournament. This means SA could potentially sell more tickets than any previous tournament.

But for this privilege, SA must fork out a guarantee of at least £120m. And, as Roux told the World Rugby Council on Monday, SA would throw in a further £40m on top of that.

It sounds steep and risky, especially now that the nation is, frankly, broke. But this is not 2010. The bigger and better stadiums are already built (says Roux) and it is certain that every deal and favour will be scrutinised with paranoid zeal.

More importantly, South Africans need to remind themselves that no matter how deep the quagmire into which our politicians have sunk us, this is no reason to stop striving for the kind of life we want to live. Hosting a major event would, at the least, allow us to restore some of the pride lost in recent years.

As with Cape Town’s bid for the 2008 Olympics, the 2010 soccer World Cup and sundry lesser spectacles, the 2023 tournament is an opportunity that extends beyond pure profit.

One such opportunity should be to improve the state of SA rugby, which remains the least transformed of the major sporting codes. Were we to host the 2023 event, it would act as a spur to the rugby administrators to show that 28 years after the 1995 event, there has at least been some improvement, even if it’s no rainbow nation.

It’s too much to hope for 1995 again. But if the bid for 2023 can rally the nation in a time of great need behind a unifying cause, it would have been worth every cent.

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