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World Cup's Empty Legacy

The stadiums built in South Africa for last summer's games are going unused

Organizers of the 2010 World Cup may have been unintentionally prophetic last July when, during the tournament's closing ceremony, they unleashed a herd of animatronic white elephants in Johannesburg's Soccer City stadium. Four months later, the six stadiums built for the tournament are all in danger of turning into white elephants themselves. The U.S.'s friendly against South Africa on Wednesday was just the third event held at Cape Town Stadium since the World Cup, and the company due to take over the stadium's 30-year lease on Nov. 1 pulled out of the deal, forcing the city to cover maintenance costs of around $6 million a year.

What's more, the new stadiums have been unable to attract tenants who would make them financially viable. Attendance for South Africa's soccer league is often painfully small: an estimated 500 in Durban for a game last month and 200 for one in Rustenburg in September. The popular rugby teams in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban have chosen to stay in their older stadiums, citing the lack of sufficient luxury suites in the new ones, and cricket is a nonstarter, since the playing surfaces in the new stadiums aren't large enough. In August the head of South Africa's Rugby Union, Oregan Hoskins, told a parliamentary committee that it was a mistake not to have resolved the post--World Cup use of the stadiums before they were built. "It is tragic for us as a nation that we have to act in reverse," he said.

There have been some bright spots: Soccer City drew 92,000 for a South Africa rugby match against New Zealand, while Cape Town Stadium drew 43,000 to kick off the domestic soccer league season. But those were exceptions. Nor are the World Cup stadiums in major cities the only concerns; the ones in smaller Polokwane and Nelspruit lack sizable local teams as well. The head of the World Cup organizing committee, Danny Jordaan, promised last month that neither stadium will be razed, but he also expressed concern over their sustainability. South Africa staged a glorious World Cup, but after spending $5.5 billion on the party, its hangover might just be beginning.



EMPTY NEST South African sides AmaZulu (left) and Maritzburg United played to crickets in Durban.