Athlone loses out on ‘Ay­oba and bucks’

Res­i­dents an­gry as R406m up­grade to prac­tice fa­cil­ity fails to at­tract foot­ball stars

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - HELEN BAM­FORD

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.

“Teams train

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.

PIC­TURE: SAM CLARK

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.

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