In another sad example of how ZA authorities can shoot themselves, and their constituencies, in the foot comes with the unofficial news that J-Bay is off the WSL Championship Tour in 2024.
The official reason that the World Surf League will apparently give - excluding a miraculous last minute stay of execution - is that the Corona Open J-Bay has been cancelled next year because it clashes with the Olympic Games in Paris, which is from Friday 26 July to Sunday 11 Aug 2024.
This may seem quite plausible. The Olympic dates are conveniently near the dates when J-Bay would run, but unfortunately, as always in this schizoid land of ours, it comes down to a lack of financial support and political understanding of how important such global events are, with corporates not far away from similar lethargy.
Sources close to the matter say that the J-Bay leg of the CT had a significant shortfall in 2023, and that the total income locked down for 2024 meant a similar loss next year, and time - and patience - has run out. This comes not for want of trying to secure the event's future.
Behind the scenes, from many individuals and entities, there have been Herculean efforts to procure the necessary investment, with much lobbying of provincial and national government, as well as corporates.
However, despite committed financial support from some sponsors, Kouga municipality and Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism, the required financial support was not forthcoming, and the hand of the WSL has been forced into a very uncomfortable and painful decision.
"It seems that El Salvador will be the replacement," the source said, adding that it was a cruel irony that here in South Africa, there was little broader political appreciation of what it meant to host a global sport event of this magnitude, of being one of 11 high profile stops on a global tour not dissimilar to Formula 1 in some respects, especially considering things beyond the hard cash element. Things like prestige, gravitas, and a platform for local regions to showcase themselves to the world.
Apparently, of the events for 2024, one had to be culled. El Salvador and Brazil got the financial support they needed, which "saw their events survive, but ours got chopped".
"In a country like Australia, state governments are falling over themselves to host more WSL events in an already congested lineup of events in Australia because they appreciate what this does to the local economy, with a huge economic injection when thousands of local, state and overseas visitors come to a town for 10 days."
The bottom line is that this is a catastrophe for the Jeffreys Bay community, as well as the Eastern Cape, notwithstanding those who don't like events and would prefer a return to pure surf tourism. The lean winter months normally get a massive cash injection from surf tourism in July, most of it coming from the event, which tides everyone over until the summer holidays. Another source said that it was a typically South African malaise, when squabbles and political rivalries put the needs of the few above the needs of the people they are meant to represent, and serve.
"They see a cash cow, but if they can't feed at the trough, they destroy the project so no-one can benefit," the source said.
Apparently, the athletes themselves know about the pending announcement, as does half of J-Bay, where the news is spreading like wildfire. There is a glimmer of hope for 2025, with plenty of time to plan a strategy that will garner the kind of support the event needs.
The ingenuity of a galvanized community, who will remember the trauma of Covid-induced hiatus, will no doubt be carefully considering alternatives, but for now, this is terrible news for surfing in South Africa, and there are going to be more than a few professional surfers who will be bleak.
The SA stop at the best right point in the world was a favourite.