Wed, Jun 12, 2013 - Page 18 News List

WROLD CUP: Manaus’ new stadium: majesty or extravagant folly?

The Guardian, MANAUS, Brazil

Unlike the Chinese capital, there is no nearby cheap and abundant source of steel that can be delivered on time to the required technical standards. Instead, all 6,700 tonnes are being smelted in Portugal, shipped across the Atlantic and down the Rio Negro. Only two of the three ships have arrived.

To lift these giant weights into place, the builders have also had to ship in heavy-duty cranes from China and the US. That can be difficult during even the dry season, when the waters of the Rio Negro are too low for container ships, which means equipment has to be flown in at even greater expense.

Budget holdups have added to delays. The roof of the stadium ought to have been put in place in March, but the structure is only 60 percent finished.

The local soccer club, Nacional, were supposed to be playing in the new stadium, but they are having to make do with a municipal ground with two open ends, missing floodlight bulbs and a hand-operated scoreboard with wonky numbers. Whether the team from Serie D — Brazil’s fourth division — are ready for a 43,000-capacity World Cup super-stadium is another concern. Matches in the Amazonas league attract an average crowd of 588 supporters.

Although they are the most popular team in an area greater than Britain, France, Germany and Italy combined, Nacional attract an average attendance similar to that of Burton Albion (who play in the fourth tier of English soccer). Most soccer fans in Manaus support southern glamor clubs, such as Flamengo, Botafogo, Corinthians and Santos.

“Everyone in Brazil is critical of Manaus’ World Cup plans because they say the stadium will never be used. We might not fill it, but we won’t let it go to waste,” said Matheus Augusto, a devoted 19-year-old Nacional supporter. “I think more fans will come when we have a new stadium.”

Manaus is far from alone in having a mega-stadium and a minor team. In Brasilia, the 70,000-seat, US$495 million Mane Garrincha opened last week, but the capital’s teams rarely attracts more than a few hundred fans. The lower-division sides in Cuiaba will also struggle to fill even a fraction of the 47,000-capacity Arena Pantanal, another delayed construction project.

The World Cup will raise the international profile of Manaus and accelerate infrastructure improvements (the city claims investment of more than 5 billion reais on an airport upgrade, better connections to the national grid, improved transport and a 4G wireless network).

The government justifies the expense of stadiums in such far-flung places on the grounds of redistribution, in line with its aim to reduce inequality between north and south, black and white, poor and rich. Critics smell corruption — a longstanding problem in Brazil.

Soccer-star-turned-politician Romario said the venues at Manaus, Brasilia, Cuiaba and Natal are unlikely to survive beyond the World Cup.

“Maybe they’ll stage concerts at those stadiums a few times a month, but that aside, they’re a joke,” Romario said.

For the outside world, such debates may seen irrelevant. After all, it will be Brazilian taxpayers who bear the brunt of the costs, while FIFA rakes in the income from what looks likely to be the most lucrative World Cup ever.

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