PE in Sevens heaven

Port Elizabeth’s Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium has been announced as the venue for the South African leg of the Sevens World Series.

It was the predictable decision, one that the pundits had called since the bidding for the hosting rights opened last December. PE was dubbed the ‘politically correct’ choice because hosting the South African leg at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium would increase rugby interest in the region and would benefit the development of the sport, especially in the black areas of the Eastern Cape.

While there were several other unions, like SWD and the Leopards, that were competing, Cape Town was considered PE’s only realistic competitor in the bidding race because of its success of hosting international tournaments and festivals, its numerous tourism facilities and rugby tradition in the city. In Cape Town there was an opportunity to create a world-class tournament, similar to those in Hong Kong and London.

However, with EP Kings president Cheeky Watson seen at Saru’s offices prior to the official announcement, it was obvious that PE would be granted hosting rights. And so it was announced by Saru CEO Jurie Roux on Monday afternoon, but was it a ‘politically correct’ or a fair decision?

Roux declared it an ‘easy and clear-cut choice’ to appoint PE as the new hosts. Roux showed me the professional bid the EP Kings put forward (a thick, bound book which covered all Saru’s criteria). He described it as the ‘best bid made by all unions involved’.

‘This decision was actually confirmed by Saru and the IRB a few weeks ago already, but the IRB asked us to delay the announcement so it coincided with Australia’s new host city notification [the Australian Sevens leg has moved from Adelaide to Skilled Park in the Gold Coast],’ Roux told keo.co.za.

‘After nine years of the SA Sevens leg being hosted in George, it was time for a change for the greater good. George has served the country well but it was agreed that hosting the sevens tournament in PE would help with the development of the sport in the region.’

When a journalist queried whether Cape Town would have provided a more professional set-up than PE, Roux replied: ‘Are you saying that they are not professional?

‘Saru looked at this issue and critiqued all the bids according to our check list, that focuses on the venues, the city, the local municipality, government financial support and whether the stadium was spectator-friendly. EP met these requirements and it was a simple decision at the end of the day. Their bid was far more professional than WP’s bid.’

With PE also hosting the Springbok/All Blacks Tri-Nations Test on 20 August, Watson said these were great times for EP Rugby.

‘As president of EP, we would like the thank Saru and the IRB for their proactive decision,’ Watson said. ‘I would also like to thank the administrators, the municipality and the stadium officials for their help in presenting a professional bid.

‘We saw the revival of the Kings last year, a record crowd for the British & Irish Lions game in PE and a 45 000-strong crowd for the Currie Cup promotion/relegation play-off last season. There is a hunger for top-flight rugby in our region and it’s great to host the sevens as most of those players come from EP. We will do our best to make this sevens tournament a success.’

By Gareth Duncan

Follow Gareth on Twitter

Follow SA Rugby mag on Twitter