South Africans Want Olympic Flame to Light Cape Town


Of the five circles in the Olympic emblem, one has long been ignored - the ring that symbolizes Africa.

That will change in 2004, if Chris Ball has his way.

Mr. Ball and his Cape Town Olympic bid committee have launched an aggressive campaign to make this city the first African host of the Games. But first he has to convince skeptics that a high crime rate and lack of infrastructure are no problems for South Africa's Mother City.

Ball says that staging the world's premier sports event in Cape Town would be a turning point in Olympics history.

"Holding the 2004 games in Cape Town would give new expression to the Olympic movement. It would demonstrate the Games' power as an important social force by making a significant difference to the lives of underprivileged people," he said in an interview.

Cape Town has stiff competition from nine other candidate cities, of which Stockholm and Rome are considered the front-runners.

Ball and South Africa's bid committee enlisted the help of none other than President Nelson Mandela to sell the idea to the Olympic Evaluation Committee when it visited Cape Town earlier this month.

"Give us these Games. We are ready for them. They will be good for us. They will be good for Africa. They will be good for the spirit of the Olympic movement," Mr. Mandela said after a traditional singer opened the committee's visit.

The way Ball tells it, Cape Town is the logical place. He notes that the days of apartheid and isolation from the world are over. The city of spectacular scenery perched between the ocean and mountains has become an established site for international tourists since the 1994 democratic elections.

He says that 1 million visitors pour into the city every year, and that Cape Town will need to upgrade its hotels and other facilities to cope with the influx regardless of whether it hosts the Games.

Ball also cites a South African Development Bank report that predicts hosting the Olympics would create 90,000 permanent jobs countrywide and give a $6.45 billion boost to the gross domestic product by 2004.

According to two public opinion polls, 80 percent of the population is convinced that hosting the Games is a good idea.

But loud dissent has been aroused among the mainly white residents of the Cape, and local newspapers are filled weekly with irate letters expressing fears that the event would spoil their tranquil city with a deluge of unwanted visitors.

Critics ask if Cape Town can afford the Games if revenue fails to meet expectations, pointing out that Montreal and Barcelona are still paying for their extravagant Games with higher taxes.

Others question whether facilities can be built in time to accommodate such an influx of visitors. Cape Town would need a new airport, improved road and rail networks, an Olympic village, and more sports arenas.

Still others say tourists from the United States and Europe not already discouraged by the long trip may be scared off by South Africa's high crime rate.

And others worry that the benefits would not trickle down to the poor. They point out that only certain hotels and venders would benefit and that the entrance fee to the Games would be too costly for many city residents.

"Does the city really need hundreds more hotel beds and new sports facilities when a large portion of the population is unemployed?" asks one skeptical resident. "I'm not against the idea of holding the Games here per se," he adds. "But I question how much it will really help those who have to be helped."

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