Nwabisa Makunga: Ironman questions valid

A year from now the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality plans to host the prestigious Ironman 70.3 World Championship.

The event brings together some of the world’s best triathletes to compete in this renowned global extravaganza.

Following a successful bid last year, our city beat competitors in France and Hungary to be named the host city for the 2018 event.

Roughly 4 000 athletes are expected. An even greater number of visitors, their families and technical teams are to grace our shores.

As far as global sporting events go, this is indeed gold.

It is in line with the metro’s vision to make our city the water sports capital of South Africa. Only, it is not that simple.

First, this event comes at a time when our local landscape is fraught with political divisions, where every major council decision has become the subject of a bitter, multiparty discord, be it ideological or just superficial.

The decision to host this event – even though it predates this administration – is no different.

At least in the public domain are two dominant political narratives.

On the one hand, the coalition government says this event is a coup for our city, with truckloads of economic spin-offs to be had.

The suggestion is that we should all be grateful as cities in the world normally fall all over themselves to be given the opportunity to host such a spectacular show.

The opposition, on the other hand, says this is just an attempt by the DA to get money from townships to beautify the suburbs for the benefit of the elite.

This narrative stems from the city’s plans to collect R13-million initially budgeted to fix roads in different wards across the city, to add to the kitty to resurface the seaside Ironman route.

Although wards throughout the metro are expected to forfeit a portion of their budgets, the opposition says it is essentially wards in townships, rather than those in affluent areas, that have a pressing need for upgrades.

The subtext here is of course that the DA is taking from the poor and giving to the rich.

Regardless of where you stand on the issue, we must at least agree on two things.

Politics aside, not all who support the hosting of this event do so out of a capitalist motive to stage a so-called elitist show at the expense of the poor.

Similarly, not all who question its public funding do so out of a disingenuous political conspiracy to sabotage the coalition government.

We must be careful to resist the temptation to box opposing views into stereotypes which, if anything, reveal our own prejudices.

The truth is there are some valid questions around this event which, in the interest of transparency, must be answered.

After all, this is public money to which many of us across this city contribute. For the first time last week, the metro’s agreement document with Ironman was leaked to the media.

It details the municipality’s financial obligations as a host city.

From this agreement we learnt that the municipality had to pay a R7.8-million sponsorship fee to Ironman which will cover various functions. We are told this amount has already been paid.

Further, the city must also cover about R8-million in expenses.

These include some basic services such as traffic, security, assistance in swimming safety and waste management.

This expenditure will be factored in (read: you and I will pick up this bill) in the next financial year.

The agreement further stipulates a range of other obligations which the metro must either deliver or ensure the availability thereof at no cost to Ironman.

For example, the municipality must secure 340 hotel rooms on the beachfront (the agreement specifies these must be no further than 8km from the swimming starting line) for Ironman officials during race week and another 50 hotel rooms prior to the race.

It appears the hotels themselves are expected to foot the bill for these.

There are other obligations with regard to branding, marketing and trade.

As far as agreements go, this is, we are told, pretty standard. Fair enough. However, this fact is neither here or there.

It does not in any way de-legitimise the questions being asked by ordinary ratepayers who are concerned about how the municipality plans to fund this event.

Most crucial perhaps is the funding needed to resurface the Ironman route which is estimated to cost R200-million.

The reality is that the metro does not have that kind of money lying around.

The glaring question therefore is where will it come from?

And importantly, at what long-term cost to ratepayers?

It is disingenuous for anyone to dismiss such questions as tantamount to ignorance about the potential scale of benefits that could come with this event.

When asked these last week, budget and treasury political head Retief Odendaal said, “Only a fool wouldn’t realise the benefits this will have for the city.”

Here’s the thing though.

There is nothing foolish about ratepayers asking their elected and appointed public servants to explain their decisions and actions, no matter how obvious the answers may seem to those in charge.

It is the right of every citizen of this metro to understand how officials arrived at the estimated R400-million in revenue which Odendaal believes this event would bring.

It is the responsibility of the metro to account for how it plans to spend public money, especially to those who remain sceptical.

Not only are they paid to do so, it is the only way to win public buy-in for an event billed to be for the benefit of all.

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