Will shark-cage diving bite triathlon events in Bay?

Luvuyo Bangazi
Luvuyo Bangazi
Image: Twitter/@luvuyobangazi

It was 10am on September 8 last year as a steady flow of curious athletes started making their way to our exhibition booth at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Chattanooga, United States.

Nearly 4 000 athletes had arrived from across the globe to battle for world championship honours.

For those not familiar with how these championships work, it is fairly simple.

All you need do as an athlete is to enter a 70.3 race somewhere in the world and hopefully be good enough to finish in the top three of your age category to have a chance at racing a world championship.

So consider these athletes as the very best in the world who have achieved top honours in roughly 100 qualifier races.

These champions represent the sharp end of the triathlon field and they don’t mind parting with their hard-earned currency when they visit your city – which makes them a lucrative market.

Evidence also shows that they typically travel with three to four others as support crew and always take a few days before and after the event to tour your city or region.

This is a big and lucrative market for any city and clearly these champions aren’t easily deterred by adversity.

So as the day progressed in Chattanooga they came in twos, threes and in big groups wanting more information about their next destination, Nelson Mandela Bay in 2018.

Readers might recall that a few days before the Ironman African Championship 2017, a former world champion, Frederick van Lierde, was assaulted along Victoria Drive and had his cellphone stolen.

Fortunately, or should I say miraculously, he still made it to the start.

The news of his attack trended around the world for a while and so we braced ourselves to be tackled on the crime situation in South Africa and in particular issues about attacks on athletes along the Ironman route.

To my surprise, athlete after athlete was so captivated by our beautiful coastline thanks to the brilliant videos produced by the municipality and Ironman South Africa.

One issue that stood out was around water safety. And I’m not referring to availability of lifeguards.

When an athlete Googles your city’s preferred swim locations and the first thing that comes up is Shark Rock, fear strikes.

The question that kept coming up time and again was around shark activity in Nelson Mandela Bay.

I raise this because for 14 years the city has been growing its cash cow in the annual Ironman event.

I am not aware of any other single event or sporting activity in Nelson Mandela Bay that comes close to it in terms of directly induced spend and size of its value chain.

The September event alone is expected to bring in more than R200-million to the economy via accommodation, entertainment, services, transport, retail and so on.

The biggest threat to triathlon events is shark attacks and history has proven that many events do not survive for long afterwards.

I raise this in light of the shark-cage diving activity mooted for the Bay.

Considering the broad benefits to tourism brought by triathlon events, does adding this niche tourism activity not risk our position as the Ironman city of Africa?

Is shark-cage diving able to produce the economic benefits we might lose due to dwindling entries to triathlon events in the Bay?