Beyond Sevens heaven: Cape Town Stadium deserves more rugby
It delivers a world-beating match-day experience. Now all that's needed is the will to bring rugby to Green Point
Sitting outside, surrounded by nearly 50,000 people, with huge noise thundering around the ground, a colleague remarked: “This stadium needs to host more rugby.”
Cape Town Stadium’s annual moment in the sun, literally and figuratively, is the Cape Town Sevens, the second stop on the HSBC World Sevens Series. The stadium parades its fantastic features and unrivalled setting to a global audience of millions.
The two days attracted 107,905 fans and, barring one or two small issues, they had a great time.
That’s because there are few stadiums in the world that are so well designed for a fan experience. From its wide concourses (a full Cape Town Stadium can be evacuated in less than 10 minutes) to the plentiful food stalls, superb high-definition big screens and modern and well-maintained bathrooms, the entire experience is positive.
While a new ticketing system, aimed at stopping scalping companies such as Viagogo from snapping up most of the tickets and reselling them at a tidy profit, encountered some problems, the actual match-day experience was better than any other rugby experience I’ve attended anywhere in the world.
There were some minor hiccups. SA Rugby could have communicated that the vendors were cash-only enterprises to avoid massive queues at the mobile ATMs around the stadium.
Because cellphone signals were so sketchy, all vendors decided against using Snapscan and Zapper, meaning fans needed plenty of cash to stay hydrated and fed.
Unfortunately, we live in an increasingly cashless society so the obvious solution is for SA Rugby and World Rugby to ensure the entire stadium and its immediate surrounds have free wifi in future.
That would allow vendors to use those payment programmes, and fans could carry less cash.
These are not insurmountable issues, and not unusual. Try getting a cellphone signal at a half-full Newlands. It’s easier to send a message by carrier pigeon.
And speaking of which, the glory of the Cape Town Sevens at a stadium with sensational acoustics and unfettered viewing, even from the highest seat in the house, only proves what a mediocre experience Newlands has become.
The fan walk to the stadium is strewn with bars and restaurants, while the concourse around the actual stadium is set up with food trucks, beer tents and games and entertainment for kids. There is also a free flow around the stadium, unlike at Newlands (and many other stadiums) with its cordoned-off avenues.
Heads of agreement between Western Province Rugby and the City of Cape Town to bring rugby to Green Point have been signed. But there are no more details.
No time frame for a possible move has been agreed and with a change in the WP presidency last month, the entire process might be further delayed.
New president Zelt Marais, in a move designed to show he is boss, has promised to look at the entire process again. That can only mean more delays.
There are many issues to work through, such as the configuration of corporate suites and a broader plan to base the entire WP and Stormers teams in and around Cape Town Stadium.
For that to happen they will need training facilities and a high-performance centre similar to what they have in Bellville, which wouldn’t be hard to replicate.
Hamiltons Rugby Club sits adjacent to the stadium on one side, and SK Walmers Club on the other. One, or both, could be upgraded to provide world-class facilities, gyms and offices for the WP Rugby Football Union.
Those are details WP want the city to commit to funding, and rightly so. If Cape Town wants an anchor tenant to make the stadium viable then they have to provide some infrastructure.
All it takes is political will from both sides. If both parties are genuine about making Cape Town Stadium the home of rugby, they should show willingness to give and take.
Because right now the only losers are Cape Town rugby fans, who should be benefiting from a state-of-the-art facility far more often than they are.