The United States open up their World Cup against Ghana today at Arena das Dunas. This is why it sucks.
Date Completed: January 2014
Number of Workplace Deaths: None!
Most Closely Resembles: If Adidas designed a shoe for a giant cat. (Or some sand dunes, sure, whatever.)
Imagine you live in a city on the cusp of becoming a major regional hub. (Put your hand down, Cleveland.) Your country's economy as a whole is humming along, local industries are propelling an influx of domestic and international migrants, and your hometown has just been selected as a host city for the World Cup. Then you get promised new hospitals! And a light rail system! And boy, things are really looking up for you, aren't they?
But then the hospital never gets built, and the light rail system never materializes, and that undulating, starchitect-designed soccer stadium that can seat 42,000 fans in a city where the major club team draws, oh, about 5,000 people for big matches ended up costing $400m, or about a third of the promised $1.3b in regional improvements. (Almost half of that billion-and-change was never even obligated, which should either make you feel better because, hey, it was never coming here anyway, or significantly worse since, fuck, the city fathers almost flushed their entire bankroll on one stadium.)
Those broken promises can be chalked up to an absurdly ambitious development plan on the part of the Brazilian bid package or bald corruption by regional politicians, two issues that don't have a tremendous amount of daylight between them. In fact, Micarla de Sousa, Natal's mayor when the city was selected as a host site, was ousted by a state court that alleged "irregularities in city contracts," roughly translated as "robbing the city blind."
Corruption score: 4 out of 5 Blatters
It's more an ambient disaster than anything specific. Arena das Dunas embodied all of Brazil's World Cup construction issues in miniature: the stadium was completed on time but is still potentially unsafe, the cost overruns hit a couple hundred million dollars, protests were small but pyrotechnic. Money that inevitably slipped down some memory hole could have been spent on badly needed housing and schools, as well as infrastructure improvements to roads or tunnels—two improvements that were scratched early on. There's also the matter of the bum deal struck between the state of Rio Grande do Norte and the stadium builders whereby the state government is on the hook for reimbursing construction loans and management fees to the tune of $900m over the course of 20 years, which is exactly the kind of fiduciary idiocy that would never happen in America.
World Cup boosters have promised the Arena das Dunas will serve as a destination venue after the tournament ends, hosting concerts, cultural, events, and trade shows.
Sound familiar? It's basically the same chorus that comes up every time a host city builds a stadium to a capacity that it has no means of filling with regular sporting events. The local clubs, América de Natal and ABC, both attract a few thousand fans for home matches, so 90 percent of the seats at Arena da Dunas won't have a sports-related ass in them after the World Cup leaves town. But at least those teams play in the second tier of the Brazilian domestic league! That has to count for something, right?
Hell yes you should go there! Have you seen pictures of Natal? It looks like someone sucked all the collagen and terrible people out of Miami and slapped it onto the Pacific coast of Mexico. Plus, it plays host to the U.S. and Ghana on Monday, and then there's this thing, which looks vaguely important. (I'm told it's the Fort of the Three Wise Men, which sits across the mouth of the Potenji River from Natal's stretch of white sand beaches where Brazilians presumably tan in the nude while eating giant hunks of skewered meat on Fridays while breaking Commandments seven and ten or something. Get it? Because the Fort is Christian. I guess I'm trying to suggest something about the duality of man, here. You know, the Jungian thing.)
I think it's fair that Arena das Dunas sits smack in the middle of the rankings. It gets some bonus points because the stadium is architecturally well done, but it gets deductions for having boring problems relative to the rest of the country.
Photo Credit: Getty