The Four Biggest Stadium Boondoggles Of Brazil’s World Cup


Fireworks shot through the air Sunday night as Germany celebrated its fourth-ever World Cup victory on the field of the Maracana, the iconic Rio de Janeiro stadium renovated to host the final of the 2014 World Cup. For all the problems beforehand, Brazil’s Cup was largely a success, even if the national team crashed out of the tournament in humiliating fashion. The stadiums, long a source of ulcers for FIFA, were complete and beautiful, the soccer was entertaining, and the final was thrilling.

This won’t be the last time we see the Maracana — it will be a centerpiece of Rio’s 2016 Summer Olympics — and while they came at an absurd price that drew scorn from millions of protesters across the country over the last year, many of the other 11 stadiums built or renovated for this World Cup will continue to serve a purpose too. Sao Paulo’s new stadium will become the new home of Corinthians, one of Brazilian soccer’s best and most popular teams, and while cities like Belo Horizonte and Porto Alegre may have shelled out too much for stadiums, their stadiums will also host big-time soccer and other events that will at least provide some justification for the cost.

The following four cities, however, aren’t so lucky. Far from useful, their stadiums will almost instantly become white elephants now that the World Cup is over. Here they are.

Estadio Nacional

Brazil Soccer WCup Brazil Netherlands


City: Brasilia
Cost (est.): as much as $900 million
Capacity: 72,000
Number of matches hosted: 7

Why it’s a white elephant: After The Netherlands topped Brazil in the World Cup’s third-place match Saturday, FIFA president Sepp Blatter tweeted that “The Estadio Nacional Mane Garrincha is a real, tangible World Cup legacy.” That legacy, however, is as one of the biggest boondoggles this tournament provided. Nacional replaced the old national stadium on the grounds. Its $900 million estimated cost was more than double the initial proposal, and the cost made it the world’s second most expensive soccer venue after London’s Wembley Stadium. Perhaps that wouldn’t be such a problem if Brasilia actually hosted top soccer throughout the rest of the year, but but the city’s biggest clubs, Brasilia FC and Brasiliense, are both in Brazilian soccer’s fourth division and don’t draw crowds near the size of the Nacional’s capacity. Brasiliense doesn’t even plan to play there. Nacional will get some use as a concert and convention venue and will serve as a site of some Olympic festivities in 2016, but beyond that, it’s hard to imagine it will come close to justifying its enormous price tag.

Arena Pantanal

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City: Cuiaba
Cost (est.): $240-260 million
Capacity: 41,000
Number of matches hosted: 4

Why it’s a white elephant: Pantanal was built “specifically for Brazil 2014” on the site of Cuiaba’s old stadium, and FIFA boasts that it “will have an adaptable structure, which can be reduced in size” once the World Cup ends. That’s a small positive, because the city’s two most prominent clubs — Mixto and Operario — play in Brazil’s lower divisions. Officials are hoping for just 4,000 fans at the stadium’s first notable post-World Cup match, the third division championship. The hope is that Pantanal will host trade fairs and conventions alongside soccer matches and that its biggest draw, a four-day rodeo that attracts a few hundred thousand visitors, will help keep the stadium from becoming too big of a disaster. Still, Cuiaba and the Pantanal are perhaps the clearest symbol of the problems protesters raised around the World Cup: the stadium, an airport, and a proposed light-rail system accounted for nearly all of the city’s World Cup infrastructure earmark, but the light rail system is operational right now for only about 500 meters and many of the other planned projects haven’t been completed.

Arena das Dunas

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City: Natal
Cost (est.): estimates range from $180 million to $400 million
Capacity: 39,900
Number of matches hosted: 4

Why it’s a white elephant: Americans will remember the Arena das Dunas as the home of the best moment for the U.S. at this World Cup: John Anthony Brooks’ 82nd-minute goal that gave the Americans a victory over Ghana. But the legacy of das Dunas isn’t so pretty. Even FIFA acknowledges that there isn’t anyone to fill the place up, noting in its description of the stadium that the three biggest clubs in Natal haven’t made it to Serie A, the first division of Brazilian soccer, since 1985, 1986, and 2007. When second division club America hosts a match here next week, officials are hoping that it will draw at least 3,000 fans. Regardless, Arena das Dunas will be here, even if the new hospitals and light rail system that were supposed to be built alongside it never materialized. In fact, nearly half of the $1.3 billion in promised infrastructure investments was never spent, leaving the stadium and a new airport as the city’s primary World Cup legacy.

Arena da Amazônia

Brazil Soccer WCup US Portugal


City: Manaus
Cost (est.): $300 million
Capacity: 40,500
Number of matches hosted: 4

Why it’s a white elephant: Located in the heart of the Amazon rainforest, Amazônia was renovated for the World Cup and was the site of two dramatic games early in the group stages: Italy’s 2-1 victory over England and a thrilling draw between Portugal and the United States (the other two matches were pretty bad). FIFA bills the venue as a place that “will provide an important legacy for the region and play its part in helping to preserve the diversity of the Amazonian rainforest,” but Brazil’s most remote World Cup stadium will likely be remembered more for its millions of dollars in cost overruns and as a place where three workers died during construction. Like the previous three, there is no capable tenant waiting in the aftermath of the World Cup — Nacional, the local club, plays in the fourth division and is lucky to draw crowds that would fill even 10 percent of its capacity. It’s not even clear Arena da Amazônia will continue on as a soccer venue: there has been talk that the government might convert it into a jail, and given the issues around Brazil’s law enforcement, perhaps that’s not a legacy a sporting event should aspire to leave behind.