It is that time of the year, when the country is about to be gripped by Absa Currie Cup fever. But as one of the oldest Rugby Union championships kicks-off, so does a dreaded dilemma for rugby fan as they struggle to come to terms with the fact that Ellis Park Stadium is now named Emirates Airline Park for sponsorship reasons.
Although I must say, it is not so much a dilemma as it is a feeling of betrayal for a history that dates back 88 years.
The stadium stands majestic as a Holy Ground of Rugby in Johannesburg’s Doornfontein, representative of a history which includes hosting of the final of the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Not many people know that at some point the arena was also used for six cricket test matches between 1948 and 1954, until New Wanderers Stadium opened in 1956. The stadium is now used only for rugby and soccer, and just happens to have hosted five matches in the 2009 Confederation Cup, five group games, a second round game and one quarter-final of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
The issue of the name only caught my attention when I noticed that the news team at eTV make the point of calling it Ellis Park when the Boks play there, but Emirates Airline Park when the Lions play. To be honest, I found that to be the most charming idea. It wouldn’t be the first time a piece of Holy Ground is known by different names for different people.
Take the Capital of Israel for example. Jerusalem is the name most commonly used in the Bible, and the name used by much of the Western World. They say lists have been compiled of 72 different Hebrew names for Jerusalem in Jewish scripture. However in Arabic the most common names are Al-Quds or Bayt Al-Maqdis, meaning “The Holy City or Home”. Therefore, depending on your choice of head gear; or more seriously, based on your doctrine of choice. You will call it what is fitting.
The highest mountain in Africa Mount Kilimonjaro is also plagued with a similar affliction. The origin of the name “Kilimanjaro” as it is known to most of us is not precisely clear. But a number of theories exist. European explorers had adopted the name by 1860 and reported that “Kilimanjaro” was the mountain’s Swahili name, which is questionable since “Kilima” actually means “hill” in Kiswahili. However, in the Wachagga tribe of Tanzania have a different take on it. “Kilelema”, which means “which has become difficult or impossible” in Kichagga, speaks to a different more descriptive meaning – as the mountain towers in its free standing majesty. Therefore, depending on whether you come from the ignorant Western World, Swahili of Chagga, you will call it Kilimonjaro or Kilemanjaare.
So you see it might be by mistake or by design, but calling a single place by multiple names is not unusual. Although the gripe around Ellis Park Stadium does have a whiff of hypocrisy about it, does it not? Particularly if you consider that Mr. JD Ellis of the Johannesburg City Council’s, was the person who made the 13 acres of land available, after whom the stadium was named. Therefore from way back in October 1927, when the final rental agreement was signed, the precedent was set. He who pays the piper, names the stadium. After all it was in 2008 when the signing of a five-year deal worth R450 million for naming rights with The Coca-Cola Company was concluded, the stadium was renamed Coca-Cola Park until the contract ended in 2012.
Be that as it may, in my humble prognosticator, I look forward to the day when a company like Always could land the sponsorship of Ellis Park. Never mind the fact that the company produces menstrual pads, but you have to admit that the name Always Ellis Park would be EPIC. My only concern is that half the sponsorship money might have to be spent changing the colour of the seats.
Just a thought.
The tempest prognosticator
Themba A Dikgale