PRETORIA, July 12 (Reuters) - South Africa is basking in the glory of successfully staging the first World Cup on African soil but the country’s thoughts have already shifted to another top sports event — the Olympic Games.
With rumours spreading fast that the coastal city of Durban is seriously considering bidding for the 2020 summer Olympics, South Africa may be gearing up for a battle that is much harder to win than the right to stage a World Cup.
The Olympics are the biggest multi-sports event in the world and while the World Cup may test a country’s operational strength with several cities involved in the staging of the matches, the Olympics, held in one city alone, can sap its energy and drain its financial resources.
It is the equivalent of staging 28 world championships with the top athletes of each sport, simultaneously, within just a few miles of each other.
“The World Cup is one of the two great sporting events in the world along with the Olympics, and I am quite certain that every member of the International Olympic Committee has been looking at the matches from South Africa and seen the enthusiasm and the excitement,” IOC Executive Board member Craig Reedie told Reuters.
“I would suspect they would not be surprised at all if a bid came from the South African Olympic Committee for a future Games, be it 2020 or 2024... I think the decision to go south of the equator for the first time would be a natural encouragement for South Africa,” he said.
It is not only the IOC that is expecting South Africa to bid for the summer Olympics.
South Africa President Jacob Zuma told Reuters at the start of the World Cup in June the tournament had whetted the country’s appetite for major sports events.
“We have got the facilities. Those who take decisions have seen how South Africa is. I’m sure we could do it,” Zuma said.
“I will put it on the agenda because it is important to bring people from all over the world here.”
Cape Town was the first South African city to bid for the Olympics but was trounced in the vote for the 2004 Games which were awarded to Athens.
Durban, which markets itself as Africa’s sports capital, has expressed an interest in hosting the Games and built its new World Cup stadium with enough space to add an athletics track.
But the problems of a South African city’s bid for 2020 should not be underestimated.
Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro became the first South American city to be awarded the Games for 2016. It is doubtful the IOC would go to another new continent, with all the risks that come with it, immediately after those Games.
The United States, the IOC’s biggest revenue territory, could launch another bid after failing to bring the 2016 Games to Chicago. The last North American city to host the summer Olympics was Atlanta in 1996.
Europe has also increased its chances to see the Games return to its turf after Rio with the time zone on the continent more preferable to major European broadcasters.
South African sports officials will be able to test the waters of such a potential bid when the IOC meets in Durban next year to elect the hosts for the 2018 Winter Olympics.
The momentum, however, for a South African bid is clearly there, with even IOC President Jacques Rogge offering some veiled encouragement.
“I would love to have a credible African candidate for the next Games to be chosen, namely those of 2020,” he said recently.
Additional reporting by Martyn Herman in London; Editing by Jon Bramley