Wednesday, July 07, 2010

"Beside the seaside, beside the sea..."

THE ATTRACTIVE arch under which Spain and Germany play tonight makes Durban’s Moses Mabhida stadium a little like Wembley.
The three years flat in which the city’s old venue was knocked down and the new one knocked up rather ends the resemblance.
It was a bit of a frantic rush job to top them out in time, but South Africa’s World Cup stadia have proved finer – and longer-lasting – performers than the host nation’s players.
The big question now is: how can they be filled in future?
After all, it’s been trouble enough filling them for World Cup semi-finals – though any orange seats empty this Sunday should at least blend in with the crowd.
Soccer City in Johannesburg is already planning for a future that involves not just international football, but domestic rugby.
The country’s most popular rugby club, the Blue Bulls, contested one pre-World Cup match in the stadium.
In return, the national ‘Bafana Bafana’ football team prepared for the competition with a friendly at the Blue Bulls’ apparently-iconic home, Pretoria’s Loftus Versfeld.
Now the national rugby heroes, the Springboks, are lining up a Soccer City clash with New Zealand's All Blacks next month - perhaps bringing with them the ‘penalty goals’ some felt should have been awarded there when Luis Suarez handballed.
Compared to the sleek yet slightly insipid new stadia at Polokwane and Rustenburg, the old-fashioned rugby grounds ‘borrowed’ for this tournament have offered some of the most exciting vibes.
Wasted on rugby, really.
Loftus Versfeld and Johannesburg’s Ellis Park may lack modernistic elegance, but do boast bulk, straight lines and intensity.
Plus, they don’t double up with already-existing oval-ball strongholds, unlike the controversial new – but Table Mountain-friendly - World Cup stadium in Cape Town and its neglected neighbour Newlands.
The Moses Mabhida, on the other hand, is both spectacular and spine-tingling - while also fitting into a coherent forward plan for sporting showcases.
The ground sits just across the road from international rugby and athletics venues, part of the Kings Park sporting complex – and just a few Kevin Pietersen slogs from the Sahara Stadium that staged the 2003 cricket World Cup.
Little wonder that now a newly-confident South Africa is talking up an Olympics bid, Durban looks the most likely local candidate for 2020 or 2024.
That cluster of top-class sporting venues is even more compact than Stratford’s 2012 Olympic park (and without the threat of West Ham wanting to squat).
And while Brazil’s footballers have this month found themselves playing at 3C in Johannesburg and 25C in Cape Town, Durban in August is one of the surer bets for August Olympic sunshine.
Even if today’s unseasonally snippy winds and grey drizzle made the genteel architecture and palm-lined seafront feel less like Marine Parade, Durban - more Marine Parade, Worthing.

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