Enduring in the shadow of Day Zero

With a perfect storm of major sports events bearing down on drought-stricken Cape Town over the next two months, plenty of creative planning has been required to keep the show on the road(s).

South Africa’s second city is facing a water crisis of historic proportions — with Day Zero, the much-feared moment when the taps run dry, currently scheduled for mid-May — and questions have rightly been asked about how the city’s jam-packed endurance events schedule can continue.

Against a backdrop of harsh Level 6B restrictions that limit water usage to 50 litres per person per day, and with the spectre of #DayZero looming large, the timing couldn’t have been worse for a long list of flagship events.

Endurance athletes alone will flood the city, with The Cape Town Cycle Tour, the Two Oceans Marathon, the Cape Epic, the UCI mountain bike World Cup, and the Cape Roleur cycling stage race all packed into the pre-May months.

But tourism is a R40 billion (just over $3 billion) industry in the Western Cape, supporting 320 000 direct and indirect jobs. According to Wesgro, the province’s trade and tourism development agency, in just 10 days in March, two events — the Cape Town Cycle Tour and the Two Oceans Marathon — generate close to R1.2 billion for the region’s economy.

Numbers like that are far too big to ignore.

“If you want a disaster within a disaster, then you compound a water crisis by job losses and an economic downtown while you’re at it,” City of Cape Town councillor JP Smith tells KweséESPN.

“A water management plan is now a requirement for the planning of all large events.”

The message is clear: Cape Town is open for business, but it’s not business as usual. In the midst of such a punishing drought, that would be morally and practically indefensible.

Instead, the same innovative flair that made these Cape-based events so successful in the first place is being deployed to take hundreds of thousands of participants, fans, and spectators completely off the municipal water supply grid.

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