Arena Pantanal in Cuiabá might as well been built with soybeans and political skullduggery.
Date Completed: April 2014
Number of Workplace Deaths: One
Most Closely Resembles: If Craven Cottage and a bumper car fucked.
Apparently the average Brazilian isn't too familiar with Cuiabá, the capital of Mato Grosso in Brazil's sweltering interior. It's an agricultural center of half a million people that's biggest claim to fame is probably its 11-day agribusiness mega-trade show (#EXPOAGRO), which peaks with a four-day rodeo that pulls in close to 80,000 people—or about twice what the state soccer league gated during the entire 2013 season. That must be some rodeo.
But you know who does know Cuiabá really well? Blairo Maggi, the billionaire soybean magnate-turned-governor of Mato Grosso who calls Cuiabá home. And you know who knows Blairo Maggi really well? Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the former president of Brazil. That could have something to do with Cuiabá's surprising selection as one of 12 host cities—even that jungle fort Manaus has two million people—and the $1.4 billion funneled to the city's coffers for badly needed infrastructure improvements. (A whopping $714 million of that will go to a new light rail system which is cool to me as a transportation guy but makes me very angry as a human with eyes and marginal critical thinking skills.) It's one of the bolder displays of implied corruption in the buildup to Brazil's World Cup, where the daylight between political brokers and industrial oligarchs is pretty much blacked out. It's tough to see where this situation was resolved by anything less than a single phone call between two very powerful men.
I guess I'm trying to tell you that the World Cup organizing committee doesn't really give a fuck what the average Brazilian thinks.
Corruption Score: 5 out of 5 Blatters
Any time a construction worker dies on-site, it's a tragedy, but the lasting memory of Arena Pantanal will be the bald graft associated with Cuiabá's selection and financial booster pack. The stadium itself cost about $250 million, and like other arenas outside of Brazil's major cities it won't play host to a top-tier club team. (Mixto, Cuiabá's most popular professional squad, hasn't played in Serie A since 1985. Also, the logo that pops up when you Google "Mixto" looks like a bootleg University of Memphis tiger, which is pretty bawce.)
Arena Pantanal, combined with the light rail system, knocks out about a billion dollars of Cuiabá's total earmark, and the city has almost nothing to show for it. According to an ABC report, the rail network that had been slated to open before the World Cup "runs for about 500 metres [from the airport to the city] until the tracks peter out and disappear altogether." By all accounts, the city is one giant construction zone without much evidence of legitimate progress, a not-uncommon site among plenty of World Cup developments. People are understandably pissed, but y'know, Nietzsche says: "Out of chaos comes order."
Concerts, trade shows, half-empty club matches—is this getting boring yet? There doesn't seem to be much of a plan for using these obviously unnecessary stadiums outside of "it's a big empty thing, we'll fill it with shit at some point." Bonus points because they might use it for a rodeo.
Do you like soybean fields? And giant agribusiness trade shows? And deforestation levels that will make you start quoting John Muir and stuffing pipe bombs into Escalades? Then, man, Cuiabá is your town.
It also gets really hot—like regularly north of 100 degrees in the summer. As far as my list of places I want to visit in Brazil, Cuiabá is probably wedged somewhere between "everywhere on the coast plus Brasilia plus like a dozen other cities" and "where the original spider in Arachnophobia came from."
Arena Pantanal barely beats out Manaus' Arena Amazonia by virtue of its proximity to other places you might actually want to go, though you'd probably have a better time in Manaus than Cuiabá since going to the jungle is pretty cool. But Pantanal is still a bummer of a venue: the old-school stands-and-awnings design used by GCP Arquitetos—something I'm personally partial to—isn't exactly striking, and the girdle of dirt and half-finished parking lots makes Dodger Stadium's halo of concrete look quaint by comparison.
I still want to go to that rodeo though.