Athlone loses out on ‘Ayoba and bucks’
Residents angry as R406m upgrade to practice facility fails to attract football stars
A LIFE-TIME opportunity to see their World Cup heroes in the flesh and make some extra cash from tourists has been dashed for the residents of Athlone as one team after another has sidelined the stadium as a training venue.
“They’ve taken away our ‘Ayoba’ and our bucks,” said fruit and vegetable seller Cassiem Henkeman, who was told he could no longer sell his wares in Klipfontein Road where he has traded for four years.
First it was the French who declined to practise at the stadium, which was upgraded at a cost of almost R406 million, and this week the Dutch stayed away.
But the local organising committee says the stadium is likely to get more use during the latter stages.
Community leader Isgak Hardien said the city had repeatedly told the community that Athlone Stadium would be a World Cup training venue and that vendors there would benefit.
Hardien said two houses, in which people had lived for 35 years, and an astroturf soccer pitch had been demolished to make way for parking outside Athlone Stadium ahead of the World Cup. But the parking lot had yet to be used.
“We can’t even put up temporary goals for the kids to play on because law enforcement chases them away.”
He said people who lived in the area were not even allowed see what the stadium looked like inside after its upgrade. The R406m for the upgrade was spent on increased seating, VIP suites, improved players’ facilities, floodlights and a new pitch. When word went out that the French would train there, people queued all day in vain. It got so tense that security guards were pelted with stones.
Hardien said some residents had spent money improving their homes, hoping soccer fans would stay in the area.
Contractors had worked day and night paving the island between the roads in front of the stadium and planting trees.
“They even put generators in so they could work at night to finish by June 11. Now it doesn’t matter.”
Ibrahim Isaacs runs a tuckshop from his Kewtown home and spent “a fortune” stocking up on goods he had hoped to sell during training sessions.
“I worked for a whole year saving to buy stock but there has been nothing. Not even one team has come to practise.”
Former professional soccer player and now businessman Merlyn Julie said it was unfair that Athlone had been sidelined.
Shahida Mukadam spent her pension money to buy a tracksuit in which she planned to watch world class players practising.
“They said France would be training. We stood in a queue the whole day but no-one came,” she said.
Even the gangsters are feeling hard done by. One had hoped to off-load 300 bags of stockpiled dagga to tourists.
Local organising committee spokesman Rich Mkhondo said that during the roundrobin phase of the tour nament, teams used the team base camp format and trained at their base camps before their games.
generally within reasonable travelling distance of their team hotels. With no teams based in Cape Town during the tournament, this impacted on the use of Athlone and Philippi.”
But during the next phase of the tour nament the teams would “venue hop” from city to city for the knockout stages.
“This could potentially result in an increased demand for venue-specific training sites, such as Athlone and Philippi, as was the case during the Confederations Cup tournament last year.”
Mkhondo said the Cape Town Stadium pitch would likely deteriorate due to high usage and wet weather, and this would increase the chances of some activity at Athlone.
WHITE ELEPHANT: Children play soccer in the shadow of the Athlone Stadium which was upgraded at a cost of almost half a billion rand to be a World Cup training venue, but so far, not even one team has used it.