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Newlands and Kings Park are 'safe'

Fri, 17 Feb 2012 00:00

Suggestions that the days of iconic stadiums like Newlands and Kings Park are numbered are purely 'rumour mongering'.

Reports in the media on Thursday suggested a new set of sport safety regulations could be the financial ruin of some of South Africa's most famous sporting venues.

According to these reports some of the requirements in the new safety regulations act would be almost impossible to meet. It was also claimed the regulations were signed into law last year, which is totally inaccurate.

It was felt that the regulations could be particularly bad for Kings Park and Newlands, who missed out on upgrades during the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Loftus Versfeld, Ellis Park and the Free State Stadium all underwent extensive renovations during the soccer showpiece, while Kings Park and Newlands were overlooked in favour of the new Moses Mabhida and Cape Town Stadium.

The reports also added fuel to the ongoing debate regarding a potential move away from the two traditional rugby homes in Cape Town and Durban to the new FIFA stadia. The fight between City of Cape Town and WP Rugby Union (WPRU) flared up again when the Saracens proposal for a European Cup match at Cape Town Stadium was met head on by WPRU officials and eventually played in London.

Patrick Ronan, a specialist advisor to the department of Sport and Recreation and the man who headed up the team that drafted this legislation, said there is a "general misunderstanding" of the process and the act.

Ronan, speaking to this website in an exclusive interview, said there were a number of inaccuracies in reports about the Safety at Sport and Recreational Events Act.

The basic facts are that the regulation still has to be gazetted, there is also a phasing in period and there are different levels of measures of infrastructural requirements that are required for different risk structures of events.

"I think there is a general misunderstanding in regards to the practical import of the act and the impending regulations - the infrastructural regulations that are flowing from that act," he told this website, when questioned about the Safety at Sports and Recreational Events Act, 2010.

"Firstly, there is nothing in the principle legislation, as it currently stands, which came into effect on 2 August, 2010, that in any way impact on any of the major stadiums," Ronan said.

"What will impact on them, to varying degrees, is the infrastructural regulations that have yet to be gazetted, that have only been out in draft format.

"Those are the regulations that were issued for comment by the minister of sport [Fikile Mbalula]."

Ronan was adamant that there was, to some degree, an overreaction to the draft regulation and did not rule out the chance of changes still being made to the act.

"If I must comment on those draft regulations, as they now stand, I can tell you that there has been a significant misunderstanding on the part of many people, as to how it will impact on existing stadiums," he said, adding: "The act makes provision for a phasing in period in regards to any infrastructural requirements that are still to be gazetted."

The phasing in periods are as follows:
1. In respect of a stadium that wishes to host a low-risk event in future, they will have five years to comply
2. For a stadium that wishes to host a medium-risk event in future, they will have three years to comply
3. A stadium that wishes to host a high-risk event, they will have two years to comply

That date will also run from the period of promulgation of the regulation, which means none of the stadiums are currently in dangerous of having any matches cancelled.

Asked in what category - low risk, medium risk or high risk - a Test match would fall and where a Super Rugby match or Currie Cup match would be rated, Ronan said it would differ from event to event.

"It would depend on the nature of the event ... there are a whole lot of factors - up to 21 factors that are set out in the act," he said, adding that the police would do that grading.

"To give and example, the PSL [Premier Soccer League of South Africa] - in regards to all their league matches this year - the police have seen fit not to rate any of their matches higher than medium risk.

"If you are going to ask me my professional opinion as to the Argentinian Test at Newlands [a Tri-Nations match on August 18] it would not be higher than a medium risk.

"The important fact to remember, is that high risk events are few and far between.

"The infrastructural draft regulations that some of the older stadiums seem to be concerned about relate to high risk events only. In other words, your normal Currie Cup games, Super Rugby games, etc would not be in my view considered high risk events and it wouldn't impact on those venues.

"Certainly the hosting of high risk events, if they were wanting to host such event in two or three years' time, when the phasing in period has come to an end, then there might be a challenge.

"What I have been hearing is that people are saying no events can be hosted at those stadiums, because they don't meet the infrastructural regulations, which is not correct.

"What will have to be done is that firstly and audit has to be undertaken, when the regulations are published, which they haven't yet, to determine where do they fall short, if at all.

"The suggestion that Newlands or Kingspark can no longer host matches are not true.

"The one regulation that a lot of people are talking about, the angle of rake on a grandstand [how steep the slope of the stand is] would only relate to a stadium that wishes to host high risk events. Those events are few and far between.

"If you take the example of the PSL, that not one league match has been rated higher than medium risk - the same would apply to rugby, there are a number of factors to be taken into account.

"If, for example, you had a Kaizer Chiefs versus Orlando Pirates match and that match is going to determine who will win the league, and very single seat has been sold and the media have whipped up the match into a frenzy, then yes, in those circumstances that might elevate from a medium risk to a high risk event.

"Then we would have to look at those regulations, in two years' time, because there is the phasing in period, as to whether that stadium would meet those requirements."

Ronan also pointed out that this is not a regulation that is targeting specific sports, or as some would suggest - government is having a go at rugby.

"The important thing is, we mustn't forget where this legislation comes from," Ronan said, adding: "It comes from the Ellis Park disaster, when 43 of our citizens died unnecessarily on 21 April 2001," he said.

The Ellis Park Stadium disaster was the worst sporting accident in South African history, when on 11 April 2001 spectators poured into the Stadium in the city of Johannesburg for the local derby association football match between Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates. There was already a 60,000 capacity crowd in the stadium, but reports suggest thousands of fans were still trying to gain entry to the stadium.

As the crowd pressed forward, 43 people were crushed to death. Apparently untrained security guards firing tear gas at the stampeding fans exacerbated the situation, and may have been the cause of some of the deaths. The South African Police Department denies these claims. The final inquiry into the incident concluded that a major cause was bribed security personnel admitting fans without tickets into the stadium and poor crowd control.

The second worst sporting accident in South African history was the Oppenheimer Stadium disaster, which mirrored this one as it involved the same two teams. Forty-two people died in 1991 in a stampede after too many fans were admitted to Oppenheimer Stadium in Orkney, a provincial town some 200 kilometres from Johannesburg.

"The whole focus of this legislation is to improve the safety and security of the general public that attend these events ... that is really what it is all about," Ronan said.

"It is not designed, as some people suggest, to put them out of business ... that is rubbish.

"These infrastructural regulations were not sucked out of thin air, they are based on international research, and in particular, the UK Government's Guide to safety at sports grounds.

"They are using it for all their football [soccer] stadiums in England - 20 years of research that has gone into these standards that are being upheld by the UK government ... aimed at promoting safety at sports grounds."

By Jan de Koning

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