Do we need $420 million stadiums?

World Cup 2010 kicked off last Friday and I was beside myself! I won’t claim to LOVE football. I enjoy watching it tremendously, as I do major sporting events – World Cup, Olympics, Rugby World Cup, tennis Grand Slams, Formula One. There’s something about the human endeavour to compete, the display of team or individual spirit, the thrills and spills of competition that I find compelling.

But I’ve never thought about the cost of hosting such an event till this World Cup, and I know the moment it hit me – when I heard that Soccer City Stadium costs about $420million to build. I almost choked on my Tim Tam.

In recent times, these major sporting events have been held in developed nations or in the case of Beijing 2008, a nation on the fast track up; one that is flush with cash. It’s well documented that the huge amount spent hosting such games rarely produces return, but those countries don’t have the economic and social issues that South Africa has.

That is not to say a developing country shouldn’t host such events. By drawing attention to itself, South Africa is forced to work on urban planning and development. This benefits its people. And putting on a good show and having solid public infrastructure would bring in the tourists. That’s money well spent. But spending so much on a stadium?

Sports fans are a rabid bunch and I’m willing to bet big that a boring venue is the least of their concerns. It could be a concrete block with wooden benches and they’d still turn up to support their hero, team or country. So if the fans aren’t bothered, and an expensive sporting arena per se does not drive tourism or create much economic opportunity, what’s with all these multi-million dollar fancy-ass places?

I don’t know how we got to this stage where bigger is better, more is better, especially for countries that may not be able to afford it. Perhaps it’s time to reconsider the criteria for host cities.

FIFA, IOC and all these governing bodies need to change the rules of the bid. Cities must demonstrate how they can host a successful game with the least amount spent, there must be a ‘green’ plan for the games, there should be projections as to how all this spend will benefit the city and its people for years to come, a show of how cities will maintain all this new build so it doesn’t become a white elephant, programmes in place to demonstrate long term education and employment as a result of the games and so forth.

It’s difficult to dazzle with restraint, but that’s not a bad thing considering the economic mess we’re all in and the state of planet earth.