Do you like tales of political corruption mixed with a healthy serving of corrupt sports institutions? Look no further than Arena Corinthians, nicknamed Itaquerão.
Capacity: 48,000 (Expanded to 68,000 for World Cup)
Date Completed: 2014
Number of Workplace Deaths: Yeesh, three.
Most Closely Resembles: Square peg, favela-sized hole.
If you're looking for some old fashioned political intrigue, Arena Corinthians might as well be The Barchester Chronicles. There was never any doubt that Brazil's largest city would be given a jewel of a new arena, but there was an argument about where exactly to build it. São Paulo has two major club teams, Corinthians and São Paulo FC (Edit: it actually has three! Sorry Palmeiras fans!), and if it weren't for the Boca Juniors-River Plate rivalry across the border in Argentina you could safely call the derby Old Firm South. SPFC's stadium, Morumbi, went through an extensive renovation in the 1990s and was seen by many as a suitable venue for World Cup matches. There was only one problem: it didn't tick every box on FIFA's draconian list of must-haves. São Paulo was told they would need to either get Morumbi up to date or, as FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke apparently preferred, build a new stadium from scratch.
That's where the story hits a few different forks. You don't have to squint much to see something wrong with a recently renovated stadium being denied a World Cup game because it didn't have enough parking spaces or a new media center. According to Reuters, the reasons behind Morumbi's exclusion are still in dispute, and some in SPFC's management think their snub might have something to do with a long-running feud between the club and some of Brazil's most powerful soccer officials, including a man named Ricardo Texeira.
Texeira was the president of the Brazilian soccer federation and, until 2012, the country's chief of World Cup preparations. He resigned from both those posts thanks to a glut of corruption investigations against FIFA where he also served on the executive committee. Texeira was accused of accepting $12m worth of kickbacks from marketing firms who won bids in the build up to Brazil's hosting duties, but the investigation halted after he agreed to pay back $2.5m. (A fun little sidenote: Texeira is also accused of accepting a bribe from Qatari officials during that country's bid for the 2022 World Cup. Investigators found that Texeira's 10-year-old daughter opened a savings account worth $3.4m about a month after the tiny oil-rich nation won hosting rights.)
Texeira's resignation didn't do make Morumbi's exclusion any more transparent, however, and inquiries have been more or less stonewalled by his replacements and former colleagues. FIFA officials also simply parrot the party line citing Morumbi's "lack of financial guarantees for refurbishment" as the reason behind the stadium's rejection. Brazil's current sports minister, Aldo Rebelo, told Reuters that he "had struggled to figure out why Morumbi wasn't chosen" but, when pressed, said that getting the full story was "difficult." (Robelo replaced Orlando Silva in 2011 when Silva resigned during yet another corruption investigation.) Those aren't exactly reassuring words when a new stadium costing $450m is going up across town, almost half of which is publicly financed.
There's no shortage of worthy causes that sum could have gone towards in São Paulo, especially the infamously choked infrastructure that endured bus and subway strikes in the months running up to the cup and an affordable housing shortage that is becoming a pandemic in Brazilian cities. (Though it's not as if we have a handle on that either.) But the Itaquerão still went ahead as planned and, save for the delays, safety concerns, worker deaths, and FIFA chidings, it got the party started on June 12th.
Corruption Score: 5 out of 5 Blatters
Three workers lost their lives working on Itaquerão: two in a single accident involving a collapsed crane and another while working on the stadium's temporary seating. Both investigations are still pending but the initial findings with regards to the falling crane suggest that the machine was being used on unstable ground.
There's also the matter of a slum popping up in the long shadow of Arena Corinthians. The newly formed favela shouldn't be much of a surprise considering area where the stadium is being built sits about 12 miles from downtown São Paulo in an area that could be gently described as economically stagnant. The juxtaposition of Itaquerão's shiny new diving board of a stadium and the low slung buildings surrounding might as well be the portrait of the tournament.
The Itaquerão is home to one of Brazil's biggest clubs, Sport Club Corinthians Paulista. Oddly enough it'll also be the club's first true home field: even though the team is the 16th most valuable in the world at $358m, they've always played in rented facilities. Corinthians will eventually own the arena outright after paying their half of construction costs to BNDES and the state which is no small concession as they're currently negotiating a $1b naming rights and marketing contract with Emirates, which means Corinthians won't be struggling in the transfer market anytime soon.
Apparently Corinthians has some of the craziest fans in the world, so take that for what it's worth, but São Paulo is by all accounts a city worth spending time. Singapore's food scene, Seattle's rolling views, Dublin's binge drinking, and LA's traffic. What more could you ask for?
Go for the soccer, stay for the violent riots.
Previously: Arena Castelão, Fortaleza | Estádio Nacional, Brasília|Estádio Mineirão, Belo Horizonte |Estádio Beira-Rio, Porto Alegre |Arena Pernambuco, Recife | Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador | Arena Baixada, Curitiba | Arena Pantanal, Cuiabá | Arena Das Dunas, Natal | Arena Amazonia, Manaus
Photo credit: Getty