By George Byron
ONLY tense manoeuvring behind the scenes at the highest level stopped heavyweights Cape Town from derailing Port Elizabeth’s successful bid to host the star-studded international IRB World Sevens rugby tournament later this year.
Last-minute lobbying of key players who favoured international tourism hotspot Cape Town caused the decision to be delayed on several occasions before last week’s announcement.
This has been revealed by EP Rugby Board member and parliamentary house chairperson of committees Cedric Frolick who played a key role in ensuring Port Elizabeth’s bid enjoyed exclusive government backing.
EP’s bid was also given extra impetus by the support of SA Rugby Union president Oregan Hoskin who threw his full weight behind Nelson Mandela Bay’s effort. Frolick is well connected at the top levels of South African sport and was previously deputy chairperson of the parliamentary sports portfolio committee.
“While Port Elizabeth’s bid had the full backing of EP Rugby, the municipality and government, the Cape Town bid was fragmented with its municipality and WP Rugby not always seeing eye to eye,” Frolick said. “They also did not enjoy government backing.” The sponsors also had to be told that Port Elizabeth was not this “little town down the coast” and that it had performed admirably when staging Fifa World Cup matches.
“There was lots of work done to ensure our bid was successful. Though they only entered the race late, once Cape Town put their name in the hat they were always going to be a major force.”
It is believed one of the biggest battles EP had to fight was to win over the confidence of Emirates Airlines – one of the major sponsors.
“Obviously Cape Town is a world brand and the airline has a big footprint in the city with its own terminal at Cape Town International Airport,” said Frolick. “However, we spoke to Airports Company South Africa (Acsa) and they have agreed to accommodate the airline in every way possible in PE. They can bring their aircraft in here and have facilities inside the airport.
“The success of this bid shows EP is now firmly on the path to secure Super Rugby status in 2013. The first step was the awarding of the Tri Nations Test to the city, when the Springboks will face the All Blacks on August 20.
“We now have stability in EP rugby and everything is starting to fall into place.”
Frolick said he had entered into negotiations with Hoskin to convince the SA Rugby boss the city would be the ideal host. “I told Hoskin if George lost out he should not take the tournament away from the region. Every year thousands of PE fans travelled to George to watch the event and PE was the next logical option.”
While Port Elizabeth’s bid was unified, the same could not be said for Cape Town.
“Rugby does not have a footprint at the new Greenpoint Stadium which is administered by the municipality which made the original bid to host the Sevens.
“The municipality offered WP Rugby the chance to play at the new stadium at exorbitant fees which was turned down by rugby, who have continued to play at their traditional home at Newlands. It was only right at the end that WP Rugby threw their weight behind the Cape Town bid.
“I think that when considering the bids the rugby (bosses) decided they did not want to get involved in the local politics of WP Rugby.”
Frolick said the new stability brought to EP rugby by president Cheeky Watson and chief executive Anele Pamba had renewed SA Rugby’s faith in the region.
Frolick also heaped praise on the efforts of Nelson Mandela Bay Mayor Zanoxolo Wayile, who said his city was ready to welcome the world.
“I also believe another big plus was the massive 48000 crowd which attended EP’s Currie Cup playoff match against the Pumas last season.”
Pamba said the event could bring in revenue worth about R80-million to the city.
“This event will be televised to between 16 and 20 countries and we can expect a massive influx of tourists,” said Pamba, adding there were plans to organise an additional week-long Sevens tournament leading up to the main event.
And it will also be a special occasion for Springbok Sevens coach Paul Treu, who will relish the chance of a return to the city where he played for EP at the end of his career. Treu completed his masters studies in education psychology at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.
The tournament will be held in December over two days which have not yet been announced.
(The print version of this article was originally published in Weekend Post on Saturday, April 16, 2011.)