Manchester United/Ajax Cape Town friendly enjoyable soccer, no tourism benefit!

The Manchester United friendly against Ajax Cape Town at Cape Town Stadium yesterday was an exciting one, and Ajax Cape Town can be proud of the 1-1 score, the same score that the Manchester United team achieved in 2008 when it played in Cape Town against Kaizer Chiefs. Whilst the event was a ‘present’ from Grant Pascoe, City of Cape Town Mayoral Committee member for Tourism, Events, and Marketing, to the residents of Cape Town, many of whom are Manchester United fans, in paying R 7 million to finance the event, it had no tourism benefit at all, placing the burden on the ratepayers of Cape Town to fund his generosity!

From the outfits worn and the cheering by the Manchester United fans, Capetonians were more loyal to the visitor team than to their own home-grown team. Yet Ajax Cape Town impressed with their attacking play, and in scoring before Manchester United did, the visiting team’s score coming from Bebe in the last minute, in injury time.

For many Capetonians the event yesterday was their first opportunity to experience the Cape Town Stadium, two years after eight matches were played there at far more expensive ticket prices, and hard to come by at that time, as one had to bid for the tickets sold by FIFA. Yesterday 55000 soccer fans filed into the stadium, not put off by the torrential rain just two hours prior to the start of the match, leading to wide-spread flooding of roads in the Green Point area, and disrupting traffic. But the weather gods were kind to the teams and fans, when the rain stopped just before the 3 pm start, and some blue sky could be seen from inside the stadium. Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United Manager, praised the ‘excellent pitch‘. His team travels to China, Norway, Sweden, and Germany next.

The organisational aspects of the match were disappointing, the security and hosting of the event left to the Enforce Security company, whose staff appeared to have minimal training. Two years ago many Capetonians, including ourselves, worked as volunteers at the Cape Town Stadium over the four week World Cup period, but none appeared to have been re-used for this event. The security guidelines as to what one was allowed to take into the stadium were onerous on paper, reflecting those of the World Cup, but the monitoring of this was inconsistent, in that my colleague’s water bottle was confiscated, and mine not. The seating block number was specified on the ticket, but there were no hosts to guide one as to where the blocks are, the signage being confusing. In the seating areas casually dressed young persons showed one to one’s seats, yet around us tempers were flaring, laden with racial overtones, due to spectators having to change seats when others arrived late to take up their booked seats, having been shown incorrect rows and seats initially. Offering Castle beer to buy throughout the stadium may not have been a good idea, and we observed heavy consumption of it around us, no doubt fuelling the aggression, a shame due to the feel-good atmosphere generally. The event kicked off with the singing of ‘Happy Birthday’ for Nelson Mandela’s 94th birthday on Wednesday, all spectators standing out of respect for the nation’s icon. Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille’s outfit, in the colour of cellphone sponsor MTN, and Premier Helen Zille’s South African flag outfit, were criticised on Twitter.

The only hospitality businesses that appear to have benefited from the soccer event were the Green Point Main Road restaurants Rhapsody’s and Café Extrablatt, McDonald’s next to the stadium, and some V&A Waterfront restaurants selling sandwiches. No accommodation establishments appear to have received bookings from out-of-town visitors for the event. SA Breweries sold its Castle beer inside the stadium, and some local caterers sold hamburgers. When the City announced the friendly, and its R7 million expenditure, Councillor Pascoe justified the cost in saying that the visiting team would be travelling with about 100 international journalists, and ‘that helps us and puts us on the map’, he said. Filming a soccer match hardly has a tourism benefit, as Cape Town’s iconic Table Mountain is not visible from inside the stadium, once again demonstrating that Councillor Pascoe is out of his depth in handling the Tourism, Events and Marketing portfolio for the City of Cape Town, with no experience in any of these disciplines. Councillor Pascoe was severely criticised for his role in Cape Town not being successful in its bid to host some of the matches for the African Cup of Nations 2013 (Afcon 2013). The 8 Nations Under 20 soccer tournament at the end of May was a poor compensation for losing out on Afcon 2013, and was a spectacular failure in its small match spectator sizes.

POSTSCRIPT 22/7: Twitter follower Claire Alexander has Tweeted that this blogpost was remiss in not highlighting that tourism this winter is at an all time low, which we believed to be evident, and that this blogpost was written from that perspective.

POSTSCRIPT 28/7: The City of Cape Town’s ANC councillors criticised the City’s expenditure on the soccer match, in not benefiting many residents of Cape Town, who go to bed hungry, while the City projects itself as ‘an efficient and tourist city’, reports the Cape Argus. The article also states that Primedia Sport was paid R3,5 million by the City to pay for the right to host the match.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage

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