Chile’s Copa América Curse
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Chile’s Copa América Curse

The legacies of the incongruous, resource-consuming relics of Brazil’s 2014 World Cup escapade are well documented, but what of Chile’s “white elephants” left behind by the Copa América soccer tournament and the Under-17 World Cup, hosted within just a few months of one another? Are they destined for similar fates?

Unlike Brazil, for whom the pressure of entertaining was ultimately too great, Chile excelled on the field when its turn came to play hosts. As eventual winners, the 2015 Copa América will live long in the memory for most Chileans, yet the stadia built for the events are almost as hard to justify as those in Brazil were. The parallels between the two countries do not lie far beneath the surface.

Footballing fiascoes

Given the importance of the event, political affiliations and the provision of funding to the ruling Partido dos Trabalhadores (Worker’s Party), rather than footballing pedigree – were alleged to be instrumental factors in deciding where stadia were to be built in the lead up to Brazil’s World Cup.

The decision making process was opaque at best, leading FIFA’s first-suspended, now-sacked ex-general secretary Jérôme Valcke to observe unwisely that “sometimes less democracy is better for organizing a World Cup.”

An absurd 12 Brazilian cities – the most ever in a World Cup host nation – were adorned at great cost with unsustainable and often unwelcome facilities. The city of Cuiabá in Mato Grosso, with no professional football team, was given a 41,390 seat-stadium (although the capacity has since been reduced to a marginally less ridiculous 28,000).

Brasilia, the youthful political capital and by no means a footballing powerhouse, boasted a team in Serie D – the fourth tier of domestic football – attracting minute crowds. It was rewarded with the 70,000-seat Mane Garrincha Stadium – currently in use as a bus depot: the “white elephant” that epitomizes the dismal legacy of the 2014 World Cup.

The Chilean case

The similarities in Chile’s case are all too familiar, although the disparity between the reputation of Chile’s regional and age-group tournaments and the World Cup that Brazil hosted makes outright comparison difficult. In any case, some $60 million were invested in renovating the eight stadia for the Copa América tournament, largely from public funds, although representing just three percent of Brazil’s 2014 spending.

The trouble, once again, is what Chile is going to be able to do with its stadia, as suitable tenants are proving hard to come by. Much of the attention in this regard has been focussed around the uncertain future of the Estadio Ester Roa Rebolledo in Concepción – the most expensive of the eight grounds costing 31 billion pesos – more than double its original budget.

The only club with the means to play at the stadium is thought to be Universidad de Concepción, however the need to recuperate the money spent on its development is likely to price them out of renting the facility for its home games.

Álvaro Ortíz, mayor of Concepción, has preferred to remain upbeat: “every event that is held there goes towards financing the stadium”. However, with poorly-attended football matches unlikely to pay the bills and other events not coming frequently enough, we are looking at yet another Latin American “white elephant” in the Estadio Ester Roa Rebolledo.

Ready for the Olympics?

Unfortunately, an unwanted pattern has emerged in the Latin American nations that have hosted international events. Building facilities often requires an exorbitant drain of public funds, while post-event demand for the services they offer is often negligible and little thought is ever put into legacies.

With focus now shifting to the Olympics in Brazil, it is difficult to imagine a future for many of the facilities the games shall burden Rio de Janeiro with. Perhaps Brazilians will flock to Rio’s new velodrome in the wake of the Olympic Games, nurturing a new-found, soccer-eclipsing passion for high-speed indoor cycling? It seems unlikely.

The Estadio Ester Roa Rebolledo may find a series of short-term tenants, but Chile is going to struggle to sidestep the downward spiral towards underuse and dilapidation that seems to be the way of post-event facilities.

See also:

Rio Olympics will open on low-budget

Can the 2016 Olympic Games achieve a legacy for Brazil?