Most will remember the lone goal scored by Iniesta that sacred Spain. Some also noticed that Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium was the first stadium in the world powered completely with green energy. It was widely covered in the press. However, it was a lone example of smart infrastructure during the preparation of the World Cup. Worst, the installation was only temporary as it was sponsored by Belgium-based wind farm developer Electrawinds.
Although well organized by the South African Government, the World Cup did not quite meet expectations and it was a series of missed opportunities for most teams that returned home in disapointment. I had a similar feeling when I investigated the money invested into the infrastructure of South Africa: smarter decisions could have been made.
The South African government spent $660 million building and renovating 10 separate stadiums (see picture), plus $680 million on airport upgrades and $460 million on road and rail improvements. In addition, 30 additional hotels have been built in Johannesburg alone. Officials in Cape Town built a new electrical substation to ensure that the city’s stadium and surrounding areas would receive sufficient power. Total: a staggering $2 billion. In comparison Germany spent $821 million in 2006.
Critiques have voiced their concerns that the long-term result will be disappointing despite the large investment. On one end of the spectrum the new train line to the airport is not seen as a necessity in a country that has aging roads. On the other end of the spectrum lies the question of maintaining the newly built infrastructure. Infrastructure built in Greece for the 2004 Olympic Games are desolated today: too expensive to run on a smaller scale of events.
And that is where smart infrastructure could have been useful. Use of new materials that are easier to maintain, serious investment in local sources of renewable energies, more efficient lighting to reduce power consumption in stadiums, improved broadband infrastructure to reduce digital divide... the list is long.
The issue relies on the fact that preparing for a major event like the World Cup or the Olympic Games is race against time. Short-cuts are common and the introduction of new solutions is a risk factor. Government of South Africa is promising that the infrastructure effort is part of a longer term plan. Time will tell.