Money for stadiums, not for people

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The World Cup is coming to an end this Sunday, bringing the curtain down on a monthlong tournament that, to an extent, finally found the United States becoming as soccer-crazed as most other countries on the planet. Though the perpetually outraged right-wing commentator Ann Coulter suggested America’s burgeoning interest in soccer was a sign of the nation’s “moral decay,” it’s more likely a product of our increasingly wired, more cosmopolitan world.


Even as America catches up with the rest of the world when it comes to professional soccer, it appears that Brazil, the country hosting the World Cup, has been all too eager to imitate America in an area where we have been undisputed champions – spending public money on fancy stadiums while other needs go wanting.


In the June 28 edition of The New York Times, sports columnist Juliet Macur detailed how Brazil, which had almost 11 percent of its population living on less than $2 per day in 2009, refurbished five stadiums and built seven new ones specifically for the World Cup, at a cost somewhere in the billions.


All that money could have gone some way toward alleviating the health and housing woes and educational shortfalls of Brazilians who are struggling and suffering. Instead, it went to stadiums that will apparently have no defined purpose once the World Cup ends.


According to Macur, some of the new stadiums will host soccer teams that have small followings and no hope of filling even a fraction of the seats in them. In South Africa, which hosted the 2010 World Cup, Cape Town has been saddled with a stadium that, aside from the occasional concert by an A-list act, mostly languishes empty and unused, except for wedding rentals – yes, wedding rentals – or inexpensive tours offered to visitors.


“Suites that once held World Cup parties were dusty and silent,” Macur writes. “The state-of-the-art locker rooms, with tiny safes at each stall and rows of sinks to wash dirt off cleats, remained untouched. Thousands of tiny lights glistened from the ceiling of a V.I.P. entrance.”


The stadium in Cape Town has become such a symbol of profligacy and flagrant indulgence to many of the city’s residents that they would like to see it razed and replaced by affordable housing.


Lest we shake our heads and think that’s something that happens someplace else, we need only look to Detroit, which, even as it crumbles and faces bankruptcy, is building a new home for the Red Wings hockey team. But they’re pikers compared to Atlanta, which is going to demolish the Georgia Dome, just a little over 20 years old, so a new, $1.2 billion stadium with a retractable roof can be built nearby. Just a few miles away, Turner Field, which has been playing field for the Atlanta Braves since those long-ago, cobweb-covered days of 1997, will be facing the wrecking ball in a couple of years since the Braves will be decamping to one of the city’s northern suburbs in 2017, thanks to a hefty infusion of public money to build a new stadium.


Writing in the Philadelphia Daily News in November, columnist Will Bunch expressed it well: “If you travel today to Italy, it’s not always easy to find the ruins of ancient Rome, a world that was lost to a long run of corrupt emperors and the folly and contradiction of maintaining a global empire. But you can’t miss the Colosseum, still standing strong after all these centuries. It’s not hard to imagine the tourists of a future millennium touring an Ancient American monument to imperial insanity that was once called Turner Field.”


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