JOHANNESBURG – South Africa's Olympic committee president ruled out a bid for the 2020 Summer Games on Thursday after the government said it was not the right time.
The surprise announcement ended the widespread expectation that Durban would be put forward as a candidate to bring the Olympics to Africa for the first time.
Gideon Sam told The Associated Press that his committee would only bid if the government gave its backing, and the project "was off the radar for now" after South Africa's cabinet said it preferred to focus on national priorities.
"Our position is very clear," Sam said. "We would bid only if the government gives the go-ahead."
Asked if he was ruling out a bid from a South African city for 2020, Sam replied "Definitely."
Earlier Thursday, South Africa's government said it was not the right time for the country — which successfully hosted Africa's first soccer World Cup last year — to bid for the Olympics.
"Cabinet considered the request by the South African Sports Federation for the country to bid for the hosting of the 2020 Olympic Games," the statement said. "Cabinet has decided that it is better for the country to consolidate the gains of the 2010 FIFA World Cup for now and rather focus the country's attention to the delivery of basic services to all South Africans."
Cabinet spokesman Jimmy Manyi told the AP that there was no support for a possible bid within South Africa's government, leaving Sam's South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC) with no option but to abandon its hopes of bringing the Olympics to Africa.
"No Olympic movement in any country can bid for an Olympics without government support," Sam said. "We always said we would be guided by the government. It is important to be guided by the people with the resources.
"There is not much a sport organization can do without government support."
Sam said South Africa might reconsider a bid for another Olympics "some time in the future."
Durban had been considered South Africa's most likely bid city, with July's International Olympic Committee session in the east coast city a perfect springboard for it to launch itself as a candidate.
The announcement Thursday came three days after the IOC opened the 2020 bidding process, inviting national Olympic committees to submit the names of candidate cities by Sept. 1.
So far, Rome is the only city put forward as a candidate.
The IOC said it accepted South Africa's decision and looked forward to an African bid in the future.
"The decision to bid for the Olympic Games requires not only the support from the sports community but also the full backing of a country's government," the IOC said in a statement. "We can only praise the great support South Africa received from the sports movement in its interest in hosting the Games but respect the government's decision not to go forward for social and economic reasons.
"We look forward to receiving a bid from Africa in the future."
After South Africa's successful hosting of the World Cup, the country was widely considered ready — a favorite even — to stage the Olympics in 2020. No African country has ever hosted the games. Cape Town bid unsuccessfully for the 2004 Olympics.
South Africa's cabinet said in a brief statement that it wasn't ready to endorse an Olympic bid so soon after the country's historic — and widely praised — hosting of the continent's first World Cup.
Durban emerged as the front-runner in an internal process run by SASCOC, but Sam told the AP in an interview in London last month that the city — which hosted matches at the World Cup — would still require at least $4.5 billion to build new venues for the Olympics.
It was another major financial commitment to a sporting event that South Africa's government was not ready for.
The supply of basic services was a top issue in last week's local elections in South Africa.
The dominant African National Congress party, which has controlled the country since 1994 but lost some ground in the elections, has faced accusations that it has not done enough to alleviate poverty and provide services.
Some communities have held violent demonstrations over their lack of services such as electricity, running water and basic infrastructure.
AP Sports Writers Stephen Wilson in London and Andrew Dampf in Rome and Associated Press Writer Anita Powell in Johannesburg contributed to this report.
Gerald Imray can be reached at http://twitter.com/GeraldImrayAP