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Hunt in pursuit of a lasting legacy

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David Bond | 16:29 UK time, Friday, 18 June 2010

Cape Town

Jeremy Hunt may be here in Cape Town on a fact-finding mission for England's 2018 World Cup bid but the London 2012 Olympics are never far from the new Culture Secretary's thoughts.

And in an interview with the BBC here, Hunt has again refused to rule out further cuts to the Olympic budget or, perhaps more controversially, a raid on the Games' remaining £1.2bn contingency fund.

Hunt, who is on a three-day trip to South Africa and will attend England's World Cup match against Algeria on Friday, insisted the Government would do nothing to jeopardise the delivery of a "safe and successful" Olympics.

But he added that, with the public finances facing such severe pressure, coalition ministers could not ring fence the £9.3bn budget set aside to pay for the Games.

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"We have already made some small savings," Hunt told me. "But we are facing some very difficult times economically and we cannot rule out having to make further cuts."

When asked specifically whether he would rule out a raid on the Olympic contingency fund, he replied: "Nothing can be ruled out."

The Olympic Delivery Authority has already had to find £27m of savings in the current financial year - a target it says it is confident of hitting.

But Hunt's comments will raise the possibility that further Olympic cutbacks could be announced when Chancellor George Osborne sets out his emergency budget on Tuesday.

Hunt is part of a team of dignitaries and officials who have descended on Cape Town for England's match with Algeria. It is a useful opportunity to learn some lessons for England's 2018 World Cup bid.

Bid ambassador and Football Association president Prince William will also attend the Algeria game with his brother Prince Harry before moving on to Johannesburg on Saturday for a royal reception thrown by the FA.

England 2018 officials have already held a dinner for potential 2018 host cities and bid sponsors overlooking Cape Town's waterfront, claiming the event does not break Fifa's strict lobbying rules because it was a "private internal dinner". As for Saturday's lunch, that is an FA event.

The trip has provided Hunt - and others closely involved with the bid - with an opportunity to see first hand what the World Cup experience is like.

So what will they find in Cape Town?

The answer is a very different experience to Johannesburg. Mainly because of its geographical location at the southern tip of South Africa but also because of its more relaxed, cosmopolitan feel, the World Cup feels like it is happening somewhere else.

There is little evidence in the centre of Cape Town of the yellow and green of Bafana Bafana fans or the dreaded vuvuzela, which you hear day and night in Johannnesburg, regardless of whether there are matches on.

Here, the big talking point has been whether the local government should have spent £250m on the impressive Green Point Stadium when there were far cheaper alternatives at Newlands or Athelone on the Cape Flats, near to the townships where the black community who follow football mostly live.

In the end, perhaps pushed by Fifa, which saw the potential of the picturesque positioning of Green Point, the city chose to spend the money on a 60,000-seater venue that would allow them to stage one extra match - a semi-final. Because of its smaller capacity, Newlands would have been able to stage a quarter-final but not a semi.

Some critics have argued that spending £250m for one extra game is a terrible waste of money while there are doubts the new stadium will be used with any regularity after the World Cup party is over.

Both London 2012 and now England's 2018 bid have made it clear no stadiums will become white elephants - but the story of Cape Town provides a stark reminder that, in this economic climate, governments cannot afford to waste a penny of public money on big sporting events that do not leave a proper and lasting legacy.


  • Comment number 1.

    "Both London 2012 and now England's 2018 bid have made it clear no stadiums will become white elephants - but the story of Cape Town provides a stark reminder that, in this economic climate, governments cannot afford to waste a penny of public money on big sporting events that do not leave a proper and lasting legacy."

    I think it rather proves the opposite, given that it's been built. Talk of sustainability and legacy is great, but it's lip service. The reality in Olympics (Athens, Sydney for instance) and World Cups which require new stadiums to be built is build big and extravagantly - the infrastructure and scale for the event is what matters most. And afterwards is a secondary consideration.

  • Comment number 2.

    The good thing about London 2012 is that the U.K. capital desperately needs a decent athletics venue, Olympic size aquatics arena etc etc - because all other alternative sites are severley run down. The Olympic Park is very costly and but at least it should last us a while and provide decent training facilities for generations to come.

    Very interesting statement you made regarding the building of the 'Green Point Stadium' though 'when there were far cheaper alternatives at Newlands or Athelone on the Cape Flats, near to the townships where the black community who follow football mostly live.'....very hard to justify that at all...apart from as you suggest Fifa 'saw the potential of the picturesque positioning of Green Point' - hardly long-term thinking is it? At least England 2018 bid shouldn't have too many worries where that's concerned.

  • Comment number 3.

    Well, at least with 2018, if we win it, we know that all stadia will be used by professional sports clubs so there is little issue there. The key question for 2018 is if any infrastructure needs upgrading and what the economic benefits of doing so are.

    The more important issue of legacy is mindsets and human societal patterns.

  • Comment number 4.

    I think that England will go through the group stage.
    At this moment things are not so terrible as many of you are saying. Since i come from Serbia, you guys just need to look at our team performance :)
    Two hand balls - when did u see that - never, and we dont have any world class players as well. And the game against Germany was awful.
    You just need to tough it out, thing are not over yet for your squad. From my point of view it clear as day - win against Slovenia, nothing else.
    Ok, England is not playing great football at the moment, but who is. I didnt see any great performanses from other team as well.
    Players just need to keep cool heads and do the job on the pitch.

  • Comment number 5.

    Is this really the financial climate to be attempting to spend billions on a sporting event?

    The Olympics will cost the British tax payer, when that money should have been spent on grass-root problems.

    The British public are once again duped into believing that this is a good thing, when the British govt will cut spending on vital services to go to war, have an olympics and now, seemingly, rob the coffers for a world cup.

    I despair. What will they spend our money on next?

  • Comment number 6.

    FIFA has certain requirements re stadiums, certain % disabled access etc. Stadiums used for Quarter finals upwards have even greater requirements, e.g. fully covered stands etc.

    Newlands being the 2nd oldest international rugby stadium in the World (after the rebuilt Lansdowne Road), still with standing room, would have been exceedingly costly to change. ABSA Park next to Moses Mabida had a similar problem.

    Ellis Park had to make certain upgrades and ended up with a few thousand less seats than were previously there.

    FIFA would have needed to relax their regulations for us to have been able to use those existing stadiums. And FIFA would never have done that!

  • Comment number 7.

    This has been discussed over and over again

    1. Newlands cannot be expanded. It is hemmed in by a rail line, literally running beneath the stadium, houses across the road, more houses, and no space for the additional requirements of a major event.

    2. Athlone Stadium could NOT be expanded beyond 40,000 capacity without having the large majority of seats behind the goal area.

    The new stadium was built, because that is the most viable site given the constraints at the time.

    The city did NOT pay for the entire stadium. Treasury handed the city R3 billion and said "build a stadium". What was Cape Town meant to say? No thank you?

    What many realize is that without accepting government's R3 billion, various other projects funded by govrnment would NOT be forthcoming. Its not a case of black and white.

    As per FIFA's stadium requirements and recommendations, a stadium should be close to hotels, transport, the city centre and the main entertainment hub of the city. Cape Town stadium fits that requirement.

    At 2/3 the cost of Emirates and 1/3 the cost of Wembley I'd hardly call it expensive.

    If you do not notice the WC in Central Cape Town, well then you're probably blind.

  • Comment number 8.

    As for the London 2012 "savings". In a 9.3 bn budget you aren't really taking the "new government" seriously? They have to create the impression that they are concerned about public funds. The reality is that its all way too late to try and make meaningful changes.

    A 27m "savings" is easily covered by the contingency or by savings across projects across the entire scope of works of the ODA. Contracts for venues have been signed, there is no turning back, with many of them heading for early completion.

    "Savings" might mean 1 or two fewer pretty flowers or slightly cheaper paving.

    Real savings would have come from e.g. the 60% temporary Olympic stadium costing 550m pounds.


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