SA Rugby, Blue Bulls Company & Free State Rugby Union on the use of stadiums ahead of the 2010 World Cup

Sports, Arts and Culture

19 April 2010
Chairperson: Mr B Komphela (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

Earlier visits to the Free State Stadium and Loftus Versveld had shown the pitches to be below standard.  A lot of work had been put into improving the grass.  The possibility of moving scheduled Super 14 rugby matches to alternate venues had been raised.  According to the hosting agreements, rugby matches scheduled for 1 and 8 May could continue.  The Cheetahs had already arranged an alternate venue for their match on 15 May while the Blue Bulls had made arrangements to play the semi-final and final, should they qualify, at the Orlando Stadium.  No practices or other matches would be staged on these fields and Members proposed that the captain's runs should either be moved or players should participate in flat shoes in order to avoid damage to the pitch.  Both Unions were committed to the success of the World Cup.

Members felt that sponsors, suite holders and season ticket holders should be prepared to make some sacrifices in order to ensure the good quality of the fields.  Ground authorities were confident that the fields would be in pristine condition when handed over to FIFA on 21 May.  Members appreciated the efforts to take the game to the people by the use of rural and township venues.

Meeting report

The Chairperson said that Members had visited the stadiums during the celebrations to mark 100 days before the start of the World Cup.  A report had been forwarded to Parliament covering the issues surrounding equipment, personnel and agreements.  All the Committees responsible for the portfolios involved with the guarantees given to FIFA were involved.  Eight Portfolio Committees had toured the country the previous week.  Issues which had been raised were the state of base camps for the visiting teams and the state of the pitches at some of the stadiums.

The Chairperson said that only two of the stadiums had passed ing their pitches.  These were the Green Point and Royal Bafokeng stadiums.  There was still much work to be done at the other venues.  The base camp venues should be replicas of the match venues.  In the Free State, the facilities at the Central University of Technology (CUT) were immaculate.

Mr Komphela said that the grass at Loftus Versveld was in much better condition than during the 100 days visit.  It was looking much better the previous week.  His information was that some games would still be played at this venue.  The grass was still in virginal condition and was fragile.  The Free State Stadium had been closed in order to allow work on the grass.  There had been a tremendous improvement.  However, there was still a concern regarding rugby matches to be played in the forthcoming weeks.  He asked what the turnaround strategy.

The Chairperson said that he had been in the Free State the previous weekend.  He had flown to Cape Town with members of the Western Province rugby team.  Their Vodacom Cup match against the Free State Cheetahs had been played in Petrusberg.  They had found the venue beyond expectations.  This was very pleasing.

Mr Komphela emphasised that there had never been an alternate plan to host the World Cup anywhere but in South Africa.  He had a problem with the Bafana Bafana shirts manufactured by Adidas.  The national symbols were being obliterated.  He thanks Mr Oregan Hoskins for the work rugby was doing to preserve the stadiums which were national assets.  He was puzzled that the Blue Bulls and the Lions could be separate franchises as they fell within the same province.  This was, however, the subject for a different debate.

Briefing on Free State Stadium
Mr Harold Verster (President, Free State Rugby Union (FSRU)) said that the FSRU supported soccer with passion.  The success of the 2010 World Cup was of the utmost importance.  The Free State Stadium was in a brand new condition.  It was a multi-purpose stadium.  The Super 14 match scheduled for 15 May would be moved to Welkom.  The Cheetahs could no longer qualify for the semi-finals and such a match could not have been played at the Free State Stadium.  Regarding the matches scheduled for 1 and 8 May, contracts with the suite holders and season ticket holders made them difficult to move.  The pitch would be protected as much as possible.  Teams would not be allowed to practice at the stadium except for the captain's run on the day before the match.  However, players would be instructed to participate in these wearing flat shoes rather than their rugby boots.  The match on 8 May would be the last of the season in the stadium.

The Chairperson noted that the pitch was in a far better condition than previously.  It was now in perfect condition.  However, the soil erosion over the weekend would have to be checked.  It seemed that the pitch at Mbombela, where there had been significant challenges, was now the best of all.

Mr George Mohlakoana (Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Mangaung 2010, Mangaung Host City) said that the city's 2010 co-coordinating body had cordial relations with the FSRU.  FIFA had conducted inspections on 28 February 2010 and again on 22 March.  The field was currently not compliant with FIFA requirements.  The last game there had been on 26 March.  Four weeks had been available to do rehabilitation work.  The field had been over-seeded with rye grass to take it through the winter.  The pitch also had to be level and made more stable.

Mr Mohlakoana said that there had been a lot of rain recently.  Some of the young grass had been washed away, especially on the western side of the field.  There had been some exposed patches which had been replanted.  Two weeks had to be allowed for new growth.  Between six and eight weeks was needed to allow the grass seed to germinate properly.

Mr Mohlakoana said that another inspection was being conducted that morning.  The report he had received indicated that it would be risky to play rugby on the field on 1 and 8 May.  An alternate venue should be found for the Super 14 matches.  There was some improvement but the grass was still new and needed another four weeks to stabilise.  Rugby was rougher on the turf and would damage the new grass.

Mr Mohlakoana said that the stadium had to be handed over to FIFA on 21 May 2010.  If the match of 8 May went ahead there would be insufficient time to repair the pitch.  Competent people were needed to make an opinion.  He acknowledged that there were contractual agreements with suite holders and season ticket holders.  There should be a way around this problem.

Mr C Frolick (ANC) noted the honesty of the Cheetahs' briefing and their commitment to the success of the World Cup.  There had to be an acceptable standard.  He asked if there was an agreement between the Local Organising Committee (LOC) and the South African Rugby Union (SARU).  He asked what the cut-off date was.  He asked if agreements at national level were in conflict with local arrangements.

Mr Oregan Hoskins (President, SARU) confirmed that there was an agreement between SARU and the LOC.  The terms of the agreement were that matches scheduled for 1 and 8 May could proceed.  SARU had received a letter confirming this from Mr D Blanckensee.  The leadership of SARU embraced the World Cup.  He had written a letter a year previously saying that it was time for rugby to embrace soccer in support of this fantastic opportunity.  Meetings with the LOC had led to FIFA allowing the rugby Test against France in Cape Town to be played during the World Cup.  In fact, the chairman of the International Rugby Board would attend the opening match of the World Cup.  The codes stood united.

Mr D Lee (DA) congratulated the FSRU for wanting to accommodate soccer.  He asked when the first match would be in the World Cup.  He asked who would be responsible for the maintenance of the pitch once it was handed over to FIFA.  The FSRU was asking to be allowed to play on the two days in question, but he wanted to know how many matches would be involved as there were sure to be curtain-raisers.

Mr Verster replied that the LOC would take full control over the maintenance until the end of the World Cup.  At present it was a joint venture.  No curtain raisers would be played before the Super 14 matches. 

Mr Verster said that the main sponsors would understand if the games were moved.  It would not be the same case with the smaller ones.  He had guaranteed the suite and season ticket holders that the matches scheduled for Bloemfontein on 1 and 8 May would proceed.

Mr J van der Linde (DA) noted that the match scheduled for 15 May had been moved.  The pitch at the Free State Stadium had been in a bad state originally.  Even on the photographs taken recently there were still some bad patches.  The CUT field could be used to give the visiting teams a chance to acclimatise themselves to conditions in the Free State, but this was also a FIFA training venue.  He felt that the match on 1 May should proceed at the venue, after which the state of the pitch could be reassessed.  There were already signs of improvement.  From the agreement between SARU and FIFA it seemed that the rugby unions had a right to host matches at the venues.

Mr Verster said that the reseeding plan had been on the table the previous year and had been based on the draft fixtures for the Super 14.  It might be better to move the matches but it was now almost impossible.  In fact, the FSRU could face legal action from season ticket holders and the suite owners.  Should the match proceed on 1 May it would then be very difficult to move the match of 8 May.  He had spoken to the pitch consultants.  Pitch repairs would be conducted immediately after each match.  Once the last rugby game was played on 8 May there would still be five to six weeks to affect any repairs even in the event of heavy rain.  They would move the matches if they were forced to do so but it would be difficult.

Mr N Dikgacwi (ANC) asked when the hand-over date of 21 May had been set.  He asked what interaction had occurred with the Cheetahs.  He asked what the consequences of a sub-standard pitch would be.

Mr Mohlakoana replied that the first World Cup match would be on 14 June.  The hand-over date had been known when the hosting agreement had been signed in 2006.  This was set at three weeks before the first match.  The original Super 14 schedule for 2010 had already set the venue of the match on 15 May as Kimberley.  The matches of 1 and 8 May were scheduled for Bloemfontein.  There was a gap in April while the Cheetahs were overseas for the over-seeding to take place.

Mr Mohlakoana continued that the experience of the Confederations Cup had shown that rugby fields had challenges.  In February 2010 Mr Sepp Blatter had visited Bloemfontein.  There was a request made at that time to move the games and the Mangaung 2010 committee had written to the FSRU. They were very open about this.  There was continuous engagement with the FSRU which was the stadium operator.  The challenges were being faced jointly.  The maintenance was now a joint effort.  Certain interests had to be protected.

On the risks of playing on a sub-standard pitch, Mr Mohlakoana said that FIFA would appoint a co-ordinator at each venue.  This person would assess the state of the pitch and would have the power to stop games from being played if he was not satisfied.  This would be an extreme measure.  The new grass looked good but would come off easily.  There was in fact more chance of damage to the field in the game of 1 May than during the 8 May fixture as the grass would have had another week to establish itself.  The suite holders were also interested in soccer.  Organisations such as First National Bank, ABSA and government agencies were among the suite holders with interest in both codes.  Moving two rugby matches would be a small price to pay to guarantee the success of the World Cup matches in Bloemfontein.  His committee was awaiting a formal written opinion on the matter.

Mr Christo Coetzer (Pitch Consultant, FSRU) said that he had spoken to FIFA's consultant.  He confirmed that the pitch maintenance was a joint venture.  He thought that the field would be ready as there would be fourteen days for pitch repair between the final rugby match and the hand-over to FIFA.

Mr Verster said that FSRU could approach the sponsors.  However, there were 10 000 season ticket holders.  If the Cheetahs were the only union which had to move its fixtures it would be seen as unfair.  Both the Blue Bulls and the Lions were playing rugby matches at World Cup venues.

The Chairperson said that the Bulls would move their matches if necessary.  He asked if there would be a problem if the captain's run was moved to CUT fields.  He understood that this training session was not a game of marbles.  The players worked up a good sweat.  South Africans were good negotiators.

Mr Lee said that the Bulls and the Cheetahs should not blackmail the LOC, nor should FIFA blackmail SARU.  He asked how strong the Cheetahs' scrum was.  This was the phase of play which did most damage to the pitch.

Mr Suka agreed that South Africans could negotiate.  Nothing was insurmountable.  There had been a bad situation in the Eastern Cape in the lead-up to the Confederations Cup.  This had resulted in the matches planned for Port Elizabeth being moved to other venues.  He knew the predicament in which the FSRU found itself.  The FIFA specialists knew what they were talking about.

Mr Dikgacwi asked how the host city and the Cheetahs were approaching the problem together.

The Chairperson commented on the situation with persons with disabilities.  Something was going on about the stadiums.  Disable Persons South Africa (DPSA) was making demands but not targeting them properly.  The stadiums generally belonged to sports unions and municipalities.  The Act of 2002 had made provisions to accommodate the physically challenged.  All had been built and there had never been a complaint.  FIFA now had to atone for sins which were not of their making.  It was wrong to target the football authorities.  The stadium owners must be engaged if they were not compliant.  FIFA was in Zurich and was only hiring the stadiums.

Mr Komphela had a proposal.  Mr Blanckensee had written to the Committee detailing FIFA's agreement with SARU.  No matches would be allowed at the rugby stadiums after 8 May 2010.  Only virtual logs could be used rather than the painted logos normally used on the fields.  No training sessions could be held at the stadiums except for the captains run on the day before the match.  No curtain raisers could be played.  He now wanted to amend the concession regarding the captain's run.  Ignoring these instructions could cause huge problems.  FIFA would move matches.  There would be serious consequences.

The Chairperson proposed that the matches of 1 and 8 May 2010 should be played at the Free State stadium with the proviso that the captain's runs be held at the CUT fields.

Mr Lee said that the DA would second this recommendation.

Mr Suka said that this would cover the Committee's backs.  Past experience had showed up the sensitive nature of pitches.

Ms Kido Choene (Mayor, Mangaung Municipality) said that the FSRU would have to take full responsibility in the event of damage to the pitch.

Briefing on Loftus Versveld
Mr Barend van Graan (CEO, Blue Bulls Company) thanked the Members for their support.  Loftus Versveld had hosted many rugby and soccer matches.  They were honoured to be part of the World Cup.  South Africa would be playing there on 16 June against Uruguay.  When the Bulls played against the Crusaders on 7 May they would have the Bafana Bafana squad as their guests.

Mr van Graan said that agreements were in place with FIFA, the Tshwane Municipality and SARU.  The remaining scheduled Super 14 matches were against the Lions on 24 April, the Sharks on 1 May and the Crusaders on 7 May.  All other matches had been moved to other venues including the B Field at Loftus.  Arrangements had been made to play the Super 14 Semi-Final and Final at the Orlando Stadium should the Blue Bulls qualify for these matches.

Mr van Graan said that the field had been reseeded on 20 March 2010.  The LOC had visited the ground on 19 March and had been disappointed.  There had been a more positive visit on 9 April.  The main challenge to moving the matches would have been with third parties such as suite holders.  The three remaining matches would now be used to test the access system.  Moving the matches would have resulted in a loss of R22 million.

Mr Godfrey Mkwane (City of Tshwane) said the city had agreed on the programme.  All were comfortable with the plan.  They had come together as a province.  There were logistic demands posed by playing the possible semi-final at Orlando Stadium such as transport for the fans.

The Chairperson said that a culture must be inculcated that there would be no special transport for such events.  Rugby authorities must develop a new culture.  Rugby had to be part of the community.  It was not a question of doing the people a favour.  The whole community, both black and white, had come to a standstill when the Bulls had paraded the Super 14 trophy through the streets in 2009.  He welcomed the move to play in Soweto.  It was long overdue.

Mr van Graan said that matches had been played in Atteridgeville and the rural areas.  It was a matter of survival.

The Chairperson said that sport had a role to build social cohesion.

Mr van Graan said that research earlier in the year had shown the demographics of rugby's support base.  Of the supporters, 2% were Asian, 7% coloured, 56% white and 36% black.  Of the black support, 22% came from the Eastern Cape and 14% from the Western Cape.

Mr Lee asked if FIFA had accepted the colour of the seats at Loftus Versveld.

The Chairperson replied that the blue seats reflected the colour of the sky and not that of the DA.

Mr Suka appreciated the transparent presentation made by the Blue Bulls.  He assumed the same conditions would apply to the three matches still to be played at Loftus.  He assumed the negotiations had been hard.  The union had to be sensitive to the risks of playing there.  The pitch had to be stable.  The rye grass was sensitive but was stabilised by the underlying kikuyu grass.

Mr van der Linde had visited both grounds.  The pitch conditions had been similar and the photographs presented to the Members looked very similar now.  The same conditions should apply to the matches at Loftus as to those in Bloemfontein.  The Blue Bulls should speak to the visiting teams.  They could have a good hard run at the Caledonian Stadium.

Mr van Graan said that there was no hard scrummaging during the captain's run.  It was already accepted that in case of bad weather the venue for the captain's run would be moved or the players would be required to wear flat shoes.  They would be sensitive.  All parties were on the same side.

The Chairperson said that there had been no pitch at Loftus during their first visit.  A lot of work had been done but the pitch was showing signs of wear and tear.  He still did not understand the contracts between government and privately owned venues.  They had questioned stadium managers and some of the answers had been scary.  Practice and base camp venues for the World Cup should be of the same standard as match venues.  The Blue Bulls had gone out of their way to move the venues for their possible participation in a home semi-final.  With the proper support there would be no media sensationalism.

Mr van Graan said that if there was no captain's run at the venue the Blue Bulls would have to confer with SANZAR and discuss the issue with the teams.  He would advise the Committee if there were problems.

The Chairperson emphasised that the two venues represented could not be treated differently.

Mr Hoskins said that the Blue Bulls CEO was correct with the protocol.  The Cheetahs would have to follow the same route.  They would comply and provide the information.

The Chairperson said that the information was comforting.  They were speaking based on current information.  A week would be a long time in the life of the grass.

The meeting was adjourned.


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