Never-say-die spirit of SA venue official



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South Africa Ellis Park Stadium with big plans Image: FIFA

Adaptability, resilience and resourcefulness are the watchwords by which Pieter Burger, the new Managing Director of Ellis Park Stadium at Johannesburg, South Africa, plans to make the 62,567-capacity stadium, home of the Lions Rugby Union, a sustainable and profitable venture during the pandemic which has bled white the sports venue sector.

The multifunctional Ellis Park Stadium, known as Emirates Airline Park for sponsorship reasons, is a rugby football stadium in the City of Johannesburg, Gauteng Province, South Africa. The historic stadium founded in 1928 is famous for hosting the final of the 1995 Rugby World Cup, which was won by the country’s national team, the Springboks.

The South Africa national rugby union team, commonly known as the Springboks, is the country’s national team governed by the South African Rugby Union. The Springboks play in green and gold jerseys with white shorts, and their emblem is the native antelope springbok.

Pieter Burger, former CEO of Mpumalanga Rugby Union, is a seasoned rugby administrator and experienced business development professional. He took over as Ellis Park Stadium (Pty) Ltd (EPS) Managing Director from August 1st, 2020, with his task cut out before him – that of keeping the cash inflow high when the traditional revenue modes of the stadium has totally dried up due to COVID-19 which is still causing widespread ravage though the vaccine rollout has made the situation a little better in worst-affected countries like the United Kingdom.

‘Times Live’ quoted Burger as stating that the financial wheels were already being well oiled prior to the pandemic with a water purification plant drawing excess water from the Jukskei River. The stadium which sits atop the origins of the Jukskei River is at risk of being submerged if the pumps fail to drain out the water.

Explained Burger, “We have pumps that run 24 hours a day. If those pumps break, this becomes the biggest municipal pool in the country because the field will be two meters under water. Before lockdown they decided to build a purification plant and then put the water through an osmosis process. That allows us to bottle our own water.”

Although the plant produces 28,000 liters a day, Ellis Park Stadium does not intend to compete with the big brands.

Stated the top official, “We want to target specific markets. We don’t want to compete with the big players in that space.”

Electricity generation and selling, making the venue a home for football clubs, holding more concerts and an ambitious beautification project in the neighborhood are all in the pipeline to keep the coffers full.

“We have issues with generating and maintaining power‚” Burger stated matter-of-factly.

“We have three stadiums that have amazing space on their roofs in a City where the technology is well advanced to generate solar power. We can produce our own energy and we can create surplus and apply for a licence at NERSA (the National Energy Regulator of South Africa) and sell that to our neighbors,” he elaborated.

“We can also sell what we generate to the local authority and the municipality can put it on the grid. That is more long-term but something that we are looking at,” Burger elucidated.

Touted as “the biggest inner City beautification project in South Africa,” the proposal will include hotels, restaurants, retail‚ business, and living space.

Insists Burger, “We have to create a multifunctional facility. We are in advanced negotiations with investors and developers. As part of the redevelopment, we are also looking at adding a Gautrain stop at Ellis Park. This will be a total redevelopment of the entire precinct. It won’t just benefit the City but it will contribute to the sustainability of EPS‚”

Gautrain is an 80-kilometer (50-mile) long commuter rail system in Gauteng, which links Johannesburg, Pretoria, Ekurhuleni and OR Tambo International Airport.

‘Times Live’ reported that they were also keen to strengthen existing bonds whilst forging new ones. They want to be a concert venue again and they want to stage soccer matches on a more regular basis.

“We housed two teams in the Premier Soccer Leagues’ bio-bubble. It was so successful that we are in discussions with three Premier Soccer League (PSL) and one National First Division team that want to make this their home ground‚” explained Burger.

Pirates‚ Bidvest Wits‚ TS Galaxy and Sekhukhune United all used this facility in the last three-four months and were really impressed,” he concluded.

Orlando Pirates Football Club or Pirates, Bidvest Wits Football Club and TS Galaxy Football Club are South African professional football clubs that play in the top-tier system of Football in South Africa known as the Premier Soccer League (PSL).

Sekhukhune United Football Club plays in the second tier National First Division of South African soccer league.

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