Disappointed South Africa denies skimping on Commonwealth Games budget

South African Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula addresses a media conference in Cape Town, March 17, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

DURBAN (Reuters) - South Africa’s government has expressed disappointment at the decision to strip Durban of the right to host the 2022 Commonwealth Games, saying the budget it had guaranteed for the event was sufficient.

The Commonwealth Games Federation said on Monday it was seeking a new host because the coastal city had failed to deliver on the promises it had made in its bid, including on governance, venues, funding and risk management.

But South Africa’s Minister of Sport, Fikile Mbalula, said the financial demands of the CGF were excessive, and that in a tough economic climate the country would not leave itself exposed to an "open-ended guarantee" on the event's budget.

He said the government disagreed with the CGF's statement, while respecting its decision as the rights holder.

"Our country is regrettably not in a position to make huge financial commitments given the current competing socio-economic needs and global economic downturn," he told reporters on Tuesday.

"In the interests of fiscal discipline and financial prudency, our government has considered all options and remains confident that we have acted in the best interest of South Africa."

Durban missed deadlines last November to sign the host city contract, establish an organising committee and make contracted payments to the CGF.

Mbalula said the government had approved a budget of 4.32 billion rand (270.08 million pounds) which it believed was ample, using the country’s hosting of the All Africa Games 18 years ago as a yardstick.

"The 1999 All Africa Games are comparable in size, the number of athletes, the number of technical officials and the duration, to the planned Commonwealth Games of 2022," Mbalula said.

"South Africa successfully hosted the All Africa Games with a budget of 252 million rand. Should it be compounded at 6 percent per annum over a period of 21 years, it will amount to 808 million rand in 2022.

"The actual cost of the [All Africa] Games is an illustration that a multi-code sport event can be successfully hosted within an affordable budget."

Birmingham and Liverpool have expressed an interest in stepping in to replace Durban in 2022. The 2018 event will be held on Australia's Gold Coast.

($1 = 13.1915 rand)

(Reporting by Nick Said; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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