'White elephant' under repair

Arena Pantanal in Cuiabá (copa2014.gov.br)
Arena Pantanal in Cuiabá (copa2014.gov.br)

Rio De Janiero - A new stadium in the western Brazilian city of Cuiaba is being closed for "emergency repairs" just seven months after it held four World Cup matches.

The 42,000-seat Arena Pantanal, which cost about $230 million to build, was being shut to "fix many construction problems in order to provide security to users," officials in Brazil's Mato Grosso state said on Thursday.

The statement said among the stadium's problems was water leaks.

Brazil spent about $3 billion, 90% of it public money, on 12 new and refurbished stadiums. It was widely criticized for chaotic planning, and for building at least four "white elephants," one of which is in Cuiaba.

Many stadiums operators have struggled since the World Cup to find tenants, and ways to service the debt. Some are being used for childrens' events, religious services, or mass weddings.

"The Mato Grosso Football Federation is cooperating with the government to carry out the emergency works, and agrees the stadium should only be open if it poses no risks to users," the statement said.

The Cuiaba stadium faced repeated construction delays, including a fire that charred part of the underground portion during the building phase. Many other World Cup-related projects in the city were canceled, delayed, or have yet to be completed.

General Secretary Jerome Valcke, the top FIFA official in charge of the World Cup, acknowledged this week in Sao Paulo that some World Cup stadiums were being underused.

Valcke said it would "take time to use all the stadiums at their maximum."

Cuiaba, an agricultural-based city in western Brazil, has two local teams that draw 500-1,000 fans, and no need for a 42,000-seat stadium.

FIFA required only eight stadiums for the World Cup, but Brazilian politicians and construction companies lobbied football officials to spread the matches around the country. Other "white elephants" were built in Natal, Manaus and the capital Brasilia.

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