THE Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality is on a soccer spending spree, with a pending R20-million deal to bring Maritzburg United to the city permanently adding to the recent pledge of R30-million to co-host next year’s Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon).
This comes on the back of the city forking out R11.8-million earlier this year to host nine PSL soccer matches at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
With the Maritzburg United deal between the metro and the team owners about a month away from being sealed, according to officials involved, and the Afcon co-hosting agreement awaiting council approval, fears have been raised that the city is unable to afford the sports luxuries in the midst of a squeeze on its finances.
It already faces a multibillion-rand shortage to upgrade ageing infrastructure, while its various directorates have had to slash their 2012/13 budgets.
But advocates for the soccer investment said such deals were essential to expanding the Bay’s leisure tourism industry which, in turn, would create jobs.
They said that bringing a top PSL side to the city would not only ensure the R2.4-billion stadium’s future viability, but also lure sports tourists to the city.
The municipality is trying to woo United with a R20-million deal to relocate to Nelson Mandela Bay from the Harry Gwala Stadium in Pietermaritzburg for its 2012/13 season and beyond.
According to reports, the team has already been paid R750000 by the metro for each of the three matches played in the Bay earlier this year, out of the R11.8-million allocated by council for "the promoting of soccer matches at the stadium”.
Although the municipality has refused to comment on the pending United deal, a report in the Natal Witness has detailed communication between Bay economic development and recreational services director Zolile Siswana and Mandela Bay Development Agency head Pierre Voges.
"We are presently negotiating with the PSL side Maritzburg United to move the franchise completely to the [Nelson Mandela Bay] stadium,” Voges was reported as saying.
Voges told The Herald the municipality had a financial incentive scheme in place to ensure PSL games took place at the stadium. He would not comment on the negotiations with United, though.
He said the plan was to secure a relatively successful PSL side which could be rebranded as a Nelson Mandela Bay team, with a team like Bay Stars, who are competing in the Eastern Cape Vodacom League, becoming an important feeder to the PSL outfit. But Bay Stars coach Graham Harrison said they were not happy with the situation. "It’s unjust and unfair for the municipality to buy a team that won’t be permanently residing in PE.
"We appeal to the metro to support Nelson Mandela Bay teams. It will be a slap in the face if they do that [buy Maritzburg United].”
Harrison said the municipality should "rethink and revisit” the whole issue.
Meanwhile, concern is mounting that the municipality could be stuck with the entire R30-million Afcon bill, despite promises by province to co-sponsor the event.
A municipal official involved in the Afcon bid, who did not want to be named, said although the city had approached the provincial Department of Sport, Recreation, Arts and Culture ahead of the bid to secure at least half of the funding, there was still no written agreement.
"At that stage [before the bid], the amount Afcon required the municipality to pledge was R23-million, and province agreed to meet half of that,” the official said.
The total Afcon bill brought before a full council sitting at the end of March was R30-million, which included any "additional costs” incurred during the January-February 2012 event.
"Although province agreed verbally to co-sponsor the event, the fear is it will be a case of the 2010 Fifa World Cup all over again,” the official said.
The DA’s Leon de Villers said ratepayers would probably have to foot the bill.
Municipal spokesman Roland Williams said although the co-sponsorship agreement was yet to be concluded, there was engagement "with both national and provincial government”. Additional reporting by Mazola Molefe