SOUTH AFRICA: Universities cash in on soccer World Cup

Universities are set to cash in on the 2010 Fifa World Cup with some institutions expected to earn up to R20 million (US$2.6 million), primarily from renting accommodation to some of the participating teams, their fans and media contingents following the competition. Universities have ploughed substantial investments into student residences and sporting facilities to take advantage of the huge event, and ultimately students will benefit.

Universities have been under severe pressure to provide more residences following a dramatic increase in student numbers since last year. Several have struggled to find sufficient accommodation for students and reported the situation had reached crisis levels.

Theo Bhengu, senior manager at the vice-chancellors' association Higher Education South Africa, said universities did not have a coordinated plan for the World Cup but were contributing by providing accommodation and training facilities.

The academic year began a little early this year so the first semester ended before the contest, which kicks off in June. Some universities had already managed to sign up soccer teams as hosts, Bhengu added.

The world-class sporting facilities of North-West University and the University of Pretoria secured their bids to become the respective base camps for world number one team Spain and current number eight Argentina, so they will earn significant income from the global event.

But even institutions whose bids to host teams are still being negotiated or have failed will still be able to generate money from tourists looking to rent relatively affordable rooms. Tshwane University of Technology has 3,800 rooms available, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth has 1,800, Cape Peninsula University of Technology 2,500 rooms and the University of Johannesburg (UJ) 5,500.

UJ Spokesperson Herman Esterhuizen said the university was expecting to make money as it has "brokered two multi-million rand deals" with an international hospitality management company and a tour operator based in Germany.

Dr Mahomed Moolla, head of partnerships at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), said the institution had rented out a residence to the South African Police Services and BBC journalists will be staying in International House residence. The university expects to rent out about 60% of its 4,000 beds.

"Renovations and upgrades to residences are taking place and the proceeds the university receives will be used to offset costs," Moolla said.

The university is negotiating with The Netherlands over the use of training facilities. "They are interested in using our rugby stadium but a deal has not yet been signed," Moolla said.

A corporate function will be held by one of the major sponsors outside the Wits Great Hall. "They will pay for the hiring the venue."

The university's spokesperson, Shirona Patel, said Wits students and staff would participate in a social movement called the Wake Cup to be held in parallel with the World Cup. "It will raise awareness of a number of social issues related to the World Cup," said Patel. Also, hundreds of Wits volunteers would assist with preparations before and during the World Cup.

Gugu Ntuli, Chief executive of the Stellenbosch University Sport Performance Institute , said besides providing thousands of beds for visitors, the institution was developing a legacy project that aims to educate children through sport. A football facility, whose first stage will be completed by the first week of June, will consist of five multi-surface pitches.

Stellenbosch is partnering with Germany's Stars of Tomorrow in the project, which was launched in December and kicked off an after-school football programme last month.

"It is aimed at developing young talent, in particular girls and children with disabilities, through football. It will also involve the construction of a purpose-built Football Centre where young people will receive educational support, life skills and football training of the highest quality," Ntuli said.

Xolo Tyhalibongo, spokesperson for the University of the Western Cape, said the institution had invested in additional sports fields and "upgrades to our main stadium as well as investment in the biokinetics laboratory".

There had been residence upgrades prior to the World Cup and income generated through accommodation rental would be used to further improve student residence facilities. "In this way the World Cup will leave a legacy that directly impacts on the quality of student life on our campus," Tyhalibongo said.

Tshwane University of Technology, which has campuses in three of the nine host cities, said income from the World Cup would be ploughed back into residences. "The idea is to improve services for the benefit of the students," said spokesperson Gilbert Mokwatedi.

The University of the Free State is focusing on providing accommodation during the World Cup. Spokesperson Lacea Loader said the income generated would be used "to the advantage of our residences - for example the upgrading thereof in order to improve residence life".

Institutions were reluctant to divulge figures because they did not know what the occupation rate of available beds would be. But at least two institutions are expecting to rake in about R20 million, while another indicated it was hoping to make a R6 million profit.

A senior official at one of the universities hosting a top team said it expected to earn R20 million out of the team's stay but R2 million would go towards cleaning and maintenance.

One residence will be rented out to visitors at a cost of R1,000 a room per night. "We are expecting 500 visitors to stay for 25 nights. However, once a team does not qualify for the quarter finals visitors will go home or start touring the country, the official said.

"We have a media contingent that will stay in another residence which has 80 rooms. We are expecting a maximum of 60 people at R1,500 per room per night."

The soccer team will stay in another section at R2,500 a night. This will accommodate 80 people including players, psychologists, coaches and physiotherapists.

The university invested large amounts on new accommodation and facilities to suit the needs of the team and the R18 million gain will go towards funding this investment, the official said.

"We're not making a profit. It is an investment in facilities. They wanted single rooms, double rooms, heated towel racks, heated swimming pools - this accommodation is equivalent to a four star hotel. It's prima donna stuff."

He said the money the university had spent on upgrading facilities was a push for future investment and would attract more international athletes.

"If the visitors and the team have a good experience here it will have marketing value for the town and university. It's a feather in our cap".

* Most of this article was first published in the Mail & Guardian, and is republished with permission. University World News journalist Munyaradzi Makoni also contributed.