When world cups start to feel familiar

28 06 2014

As good as this world cup has been there’s been something of the slow puncture about it. The actual football’s been rather good and FIFA’s commercial angle was expected so I’m not complaining about either of those. I’m referring to the world cup’s backdrop; the grounds.

The convoluted logic of corporate sport tells that the world cup has to take place in massive and futuristic grounds that cost billions so each organizing committee builds their own set of massive and futuristic grounds that cost billions. Over the last fortnight I’ve wondered why Brazil bothered.

The design school that Brazil employed – “The logic of corporate sport stadium design school” – means that I can’t tell the Maracana from Manaus. It’s not just that they all look similar either, it’s the sense of dejavu they present.

On television the grounds of Brazil appear to look like the grounds of previous tournaments from certain angles. For example I find that Belo Horizonte’s ground looks quite similar to the Parc Des Princes….

Belo Horizonte

Parc Des Princes

…and Porto Allegre looks similar Port Elizabeth from the last world cup.

Porto Allegre

Port Elizabeth

This isn’t really a surprise because “The logic of corporate sport stadium design school” only employs a cabal of worthy architects. The ground in Natal was designed by the same architect as the new Wembley, Ashburton Grove, the new Stadium of Light in Lisbon and the Friends Arena in Stockholm. The grounds in Brasilia, Belo Horizonte and Manaus were designed by the architects that designed the new national stadium in Warsaw, the redeveloped Olympic Stadium in Kiev and Durban’s stadium for the last world cup.

It seems a shame to go to the effort of building all these lovely new grounds when they’re identikit. The grounds can be distinctive. In Italia ’90 all the grounds were distinctive.




In France ’98 all the grounds were distinctive.




In this world cup I can only remember three distinctive grounds out of the twelve; Cuiaba with its floodlit corner pillars, Salvador with its asymmetrical goal end and Sao Paolo with its the open ends.

Even when they redeveloped old grounds they became idenikit. Here’s a before and after view of Belo Horizonte;




Why did they go to the effort and expense of redevelopment and not create something more distinctive? I look at the grounds and wonder where the flavour of the host nation is, for example the Maracana had its distinctive charm removed during its redevelopment. Without the commentators or the corporate branding how do we even know we’re watching a Brazilian world cup?

The international trend of homogenization is leading inexorably to a smooth corporate version of football where Munich, Wembley, Athens and Istanbul become indistinguishable. By creating these tournament archetypes they remove the national idiosyncrasies that make world cups interesting. If we take identikit grounds to a logical extreme the process of awarding the hosting rights to different countries becomes meaningless.

Grounds are utilitarian buildings for holding large crowds. The synthesis of function and form is desirable but function is preferable. If pre-existing grounds are big enough why not use them? Would the fans really mind if they had visit characterful older grounds rather than glossy new pleasure domes with ergonomic handrails? I suspect they wouldn’t, and the tournaments would be cheaper to host as well.




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