By Mark Gleeson
CAPE TOWN (Reuters) – Durban was stripped of the right to stage the 2022 Commonwealth Games on Monday after a trail of missed deadlines and financial problems that highlights the daunting burdens facing host cities for major sporting events.
The Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) said the South African coastal city had failed to meet the promises contained in its bid, and the search for a replacement host was now on.
“The CGF is fully confident and committed to delivering a successful Commonwealth Games for athletes and fans in 2022,” its president Louise Martin said.
She said the federation would keep talking to South Africa “and remains committed to realizing the shared ambitions of a future Commonwealth Games in Africa”.
Africa has never hosted the Games, which take place every four years and bring together athletes from the 52 members of the Commonwealth, most of which were at one time colonies of Britain.
The writing had been on the wall for several weeks after South African Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula said the projected costs were more than the country’s flagging economy could afford, and that negotiations to cut the budget had stalled.
A trip days later by Martin to try and end the impasse was markedly low-key, in contrast to the extravagant publicity that marked the award of the Games to Durban in September 2015.
Reports said she met President Jacob Zuma but media were not briefed on the encounter, suggesting no positive news had come from it.
Durban missed deadlines last November to sign the host city contract, establish an organizing committee and make contracted payments to the CGF, leading to a review team being sent to re-evaluate the South African bid.
It was on the basis of their recommendation that the CGF board made its decision on Monday.
“It is with disappointment that the detailed review has concluded that there is a significant departure from the undertakings provided in Durban’s bid and as a result a number of key obligations and commitments in areas such as governance, venues, funding and risk management/assurance have not been met under the revised proposition,” a CGF statement said.
The announcement came on the same day that Britain’s Queen Elizabeth launched the baton relay for the 2018 Commonwealth Games on Australia’s Gold Coast.
Gideon Sam, president of the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC), told Reuters: “This is a huge disappointment for us and for the whole African continent. But without the necessary government guarantees, we couldn’t move on.”
The setback follows a series of withdrawals by potential Olympic Games hosts on the grounds of cost and disruption. Boston, Hamburg, Rome and Budapest have all dropped out of the running for the 2024 Games, leaving only Los Angeles and Paris in contention.
“Everybody was very excited to see the Commonwealth Games staged in Durban, which was very well equipped to host the event, but once the economics started to play a role, it became difficult,” Sam said from London, where he attended the CGF meeting in his capacity as vice chairman.
“We had hoped to make this a Games for all of Africa, and so this is a very sad day for the whole continent.”
(Additional reporting by Nick Said, editing by Mark Trevelyan)