THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

12 October ~ "The whole country is celebrating a gift to all our people," Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych brazenly announced at last weekend's official opening of Kiev's Olympic Stadium, the 70,000-seat venue that will stage the Euro 2012 final. What a wonderful present indeed for the people of the economically crippled Ukraine! And a gift being something that you receive for free, one must assume that the estimated costs for the stadium of over £500 million did not come from the people's pocket. Just as Shakira, who sang at the opening ceremony, no doubt waived her fee and showed up for the mere prestige of being there.

UEFA are surely relieved that Ukraine stepped up its construction programme in time for next summer's tournament, and Michel Platini has been able to desist from any more threats to send the tournament to Hungary, Germany, or even Scotland (the wee ginger lad at the bottom of the football class, eagerly sticking his hand in the air and shouting, "Me, me, I can host if you let me play too!"). But what will Kiev do with its gift to the people once the tournament is over? Dynamo Kiev, with an average home gate this season of around 12,500, will not be moving from their comfortable Lobanovsky Stadium. So, apart from one-off events and the Ukrainian national team, the hugely expensive venue will be without a major tenant. In other words, it's a white-elephant-in-waiting.
 
It won't be the only Euro 2012 venue that will have trouble making ends meet. While Shakhtar Donetsk (whose average gate this season is over 36,000 for a 51,500 ground) and Metalist Kharkiv (over 25,000 in a stadium that fits almost 39,000) currently draw big enough crowds to justify their new or reconstructed venues, Karpaty Lviv, with an average home gate just below 8,000, will find their fans rattling around their 35,000-capacity venue.
 
Things look even worse in Poland, where the average Ekstraklasa gate this season is less than 8,500. Warsaw's new 58,000-seat national stadium will have no full-time tenant. The 43,000 stadium in Poznan will be home to Lech Poznan (average crowd this season: 10,863). Slask Wroclaw's shiny new house, also fitted for 43,000, will see less than 8,000 fans inside it for home games. Only Lechia Gdansk, with an average gate this season of just over 23,000, might be able to drum up some atmosphere in its stadium designed for 44,000.
 
How many major tournaments will it take for countries to see the economic stupidity of building venues with little or no foreseeable use beyond the mega-events? A number of Portuguese towns are still suffering the fiscal legacy of Euro 2004. Several state- or municipality-funded stadiums in Japan, South Korea and South Africa are predictably under-used and crippled by debt. Even Germany 2006 boasts a legacy of wasted public money in Leipzig, where the reviled Red Bull-sponsored RB Leipzig lure around 5,000 fans into a 44,000-capacity ground.
 
At this month's Play The Game conference, the Danish Institute for Sports Studies presented the interim findings of its in-depth study into the stadium legacy of mega-events. Its report, which will be published in full next month, is heading towards some unsurprising conclusions, which are: a stadium without a high-profile tenant in place will probably not be successful after the event, existing venues for local tenants are often already better equipped to the needs of local teams (see Dynamo Kiev and Legia Warsaw) and will successfully compete against the new super-venues, and the only certain winners in terms of profits are construction companies and the rights holders, such as FIFA and the International Olympic Committee, while the bills are footed almost exclusively by tax payers.
 
A discussion panel at Play the Game forecast more white elephant stadiums left behind after the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, a country where, like Ukraine, public money is desperately needed for multiple worthier projects. With the European Championship ludicrously set to expand to 24 teams in 2016, potential host nations would be well-advised to avoid costly bids for even costlier tournaments. Smiling FIFA and UEFA executives may come in shaking hands and congratulating you on your lucky winning bid, but be sure that before long they will take you hostage, take your tax payers' cash and run.
 
What's the solution? Scale back the World Cup to 16 teams and keep the European Championship at the same number (or narrow it back down to eight), not just for the sake of the quality of the football, but for the sake of the host nations. Each new or reconstructed stadium should have a statutory plan for its use beyond the tournament's end, while FIFA and UEFA should be obliged to play a supportive role in construction, instead of sending round inspection teams with a list of threats and demands. Greed and excess have gifted us nothing but a surfeit of mediocre games, unpaid bills and vastly under-used stadiums. Ian Plenderleith

Comments (23)
Comment by Magik 2011-10-12 12:17:52

"The 43,000 stadium in Poznan will be home to Lech Poznan (average crowd this season: 10,863). Lech Wroclaw's shiny new house, also fitted for 43,000, will see less than 8,000 fans inside it for home games. Only Lechia Gdansk, with an average gate this season of just over 23,000, might be able to drum up some atmosphere in its stadium designed for 44,000."

The Poznan average attendance figures might be slightly deceiving as they played one game in village ground of Amica Wronki. Around 3k attended and it was almost full. Last season all Poznan games in Europa League (Dnipro, Man City, Juve, Salzburg etc) were sold out. Don't have exact figures but home league attendance was certainly averaging well over 20k.

It's not Lech Wroclaw but Slask Wroclaw - they play in front of 8k now as it's how much their current ground holds. I'm sure the new one will be full at least for this years' fixtures as they lead the table nowadays. The opening game is 28th October against my team Lechia Gdansk which indeed averages 23k so far but the attendance is lower ewith each game. Late Friday and Monday kick off times don't help here...

Comment by geobra 2011-10-12 12:49:30

Why do stadiums have to be at least half full to justify their existence? Surely the only thing that matters is that they are in regular use after the tournament ends. If they aren't then of course they are white elephants. Nobody would say what Ian is saying about a 500-seat cinema with an average audience of 100.

Comment by ooh aah 2011-10-12 14:01:15

"keep the European Championship at the same number (or narrow it back down to eight), not just for the sake of the quality of the football..."


The same number for the Euro's is fine for the quality of football. Since expanding the Euro's to 16 teams for Euro 96, we've had 1 poor tournament (Euro 04) 1 good tournament (96) and two superb tournaments (Euro 2000 and 2008). That's a cracking endorsement for the 16 team tournament if you ask me. Shame UEFA expanded it to 24.

Of course now that the tournament is expanding, it makes it more likely to be hosted by the larger and richer countries, the countries that won't need to build big new stadiums. France won't need to build new stadiums for Euro 2016, and for future Euro championships neither would England, Spain, Germany, Italy or Holland/Belgium. The allure of World cups and the olympics won't stop the white elephants though

Comment by ooh aah 2011-10-12 14:03:44

"Nobody would say what Ian is saying about a 500-seat cinema with an average audience of 100."

500 seat cinemas tend not to cost 500m quid though, and the taxpayer doesn't pick up the bill

Comment by jonmid 2011-10-12 14:05:30

yeah Ian don't wanty them africans or asians going to the world cup just have it like it was in the good old days when it was euopeans and south americans primairily

Comment by StephL 2011-10-12 14:21:09

"France won't need to build new stadiums for Euro 2016, and for future Euro championships neither would England, Spain, Germany, Italy or Holland/Belgium"

Re Belgium : not a single stadium of Euro 2000 here would be able to hold a tournament game; Liège, Bruges, Charleroi are already obsolote while the Heysel (King Baudouin if you prefer) is OK-ish at best. And besides that, despite the authorities promisses, not a single one has been built since. There are vague projects in Bruges and Ghent but little else.

Comment by StephL 2011-10-12 14:21:42

I meant "obsolete"

Comment by imp 2011-10-12 14:29:28

Is that what I said, jonmid? If you were to ask me politely, I'd say four African, four European, four South American and two each from Concacaf and Asia/Oceania would likely ensure a far better quality of tournament than we've seen over the past 20 years.

Comment by jonmid 2011-10-12 14:44:29

Well that was how it seemed to be me when I read it Ian also with regard to these white elephant projects a better soution would to rely on the existing staidums and make adjustments to them if they are needed

Comment by Paul Rowland 2011-10-12 15:06:54

So how did we get to the situation where one of the prerequisites of hosting any major international sporting event these days is that you need to demonstrate to those with the power to bestow this "gift" that you are happy to waste gazillions of wonga on building a whole heap of sporting facilities that you don't actually need - and risk bankrupting your country in the process?

Changing the subject completely - London 2012. I don't know about everybody else, but I feel like I have been emotionally blackmailed into participating in the whole London 2012 charade, out of some misguided sense of civic duty. I didn't particularly want it, but now we've got it, obviously I want the thing to be a success - or at the very least not a huge international embarrassment. So, being a true-blue Brit, I have therefore done the patriotic thing for Queen and country, and got myself some tickets in the ballot. Three hundred sovs worth of 'em. What for, I hear you ask? LADIES' CHUFFING HOCKEY - qualifying rounds. That's a whole day of my life watching a sport that I have no interest in or understanding of. A whole day wasted, and which I can never get back again. Messrs Johnson Beckham, Coe, Blair, and in fact anybody else who had a hand in bringing the 2012 Olympics to London - I would like to thank you from the very heart of my bottom. Just make sure it never happens again - PLEASE.

Comment by ChrisP500 2011-10-12 15:17:25

Surely the problem is not the construction of new stadiums, it is UEFA and FIFA's insistence that stadiums for their tournaments must be of a specific capacity. If they lowered their capacity quota, then host countries wouldn't have to build these white elephants. But of course that wouldn't look as good on the telly, which is what really matters to UEFA/FIFA......

Comment by Janik 2011-10-12 15:22:07

"'d say four African, four European, four South American and two each from Concacaf and Asia/Oceania would likely ensure a far better quality of tournament than we've seen over the past 20 years."

More entertaining, maybe, but better quality? Hardly. For that, you would want 7 or 8 European sides at the start, and only the best one or possibly two from each of Africa, North America and Asia, and maybe three from South America.
Just look at who gets to the Quarter-Finals of World Cups to see where the quality remains. If the European sides were not better, they would be getting knocked out regularly by those African/Asia/Concacaf sides they face groups or 2nd phase games. Yet over the last 4 World Cups, i.e. the ones with 32 teams in, Europe has provided 19 of the 32 Quarter-Finalists, South America 9, Africa 2, Asia and Concacaf 1.

Comment by ingoldale 2011-10-12 15:27:07

I don't think reducing the number of teams would have any affect on the quality of play. The point should more pertinently be why force people to build grounds that will be too big in the first place. The same applies to teams wanting to join the Premier League - if my team, Grimsby Town, were promoted to the Premier League, we'd have to expand our ground to at least 16,000 capacity only for us to be relegated and never again be able to fill it. The same happened with Arles-Avignon in France last season only for them to return to Ligue 2 and average gates of less than 3,000. What's wrong with a Blundell Park full to capacity every week, with a great atmosphere and a future which won't cripple the club financially? These rules are silly if the grounds in question meet the required safety legislation.

The reason we've witnessed boring World Cups is because of teams not wanting to lose so badly, due to the colossal amounts of money involved, that is has become more preferable to not concede rather than try and score.

Comment by geobra 2011-10-12 16:02:31

'500 seat cinemas tend not to cost 500m quid though'

I hope that's not the bill for each individual stadium.

And in reply to another comment, Italy will have to spend an awful lot of money to upgrade its dilapidated stadiums the next time it gets to host a major tournament.

Comment by Barnstoneworth 2011-10-12 16:08:58

The bidding process is severely flawed as it encourages countries to spend beyond their means - not just on stadia necessarily, but also potentially on infrastructure, hotels and the like. Also ChrisP500 is correct - there is no logic to the criteria set by FIFA and UEFA, other than their own vanity and hubris.

Just imagine that England's bid for the 2018 World Cup had succeeded. It would have required the construction of new stadia in Nottingham and Bristol - presumably to be shared by Forest/County and City/Rovers respectively as the means of making them pay subsequently. I don't know about Nottingham but there is not - and never has been - any appetitie among the fans of the Bristol clubs for a shared stadium. But does it matter what they might think, the authorities of course know what's best for them . . . England has an array of existing stadia that are more than adequate for staging a major tournament (and there was never any need to include Milton Keynes in that) but it didn't stop the FA encouraging the above cities (and of course Plymouth) to saddle themselves with expensive unwanted edifices.

Comment by Coral 2011-10-12 18:04:57

"Why do stadiums have to be at least half full to justify their existence?"

Money! As they are finding in Cape Town big grounds stunt the growth of domestic football which is the very opposite of the reason they were given a tournament. In order to make the stadiums evenly vaguely viable Cape Town have tried upping the prices to almost unaffordable amounts meaning that people can't go to the ground and so stay at home and watch the English Premier League. It means they stop Friday night family night so families don't go together to enjoy the game. It also means they try and poach teams like the Kaiser Chiefs and Orlando Pirates to play games in the Cape Town stadium which upsets fans of those teams. It also means that the company who owned them sold them back to the council.

"Nobody would say what Ian is saying about a 500-seat cinema with an average audience of 100"

Correct. But I haven't ever found myself singing it has all gone quiet over there to the front row while the left hand side of the cinema have been singing we're on the left side the left side the left of the Cin-E-Ma. It would spoil my enjoyment of the film. The complete opposite of a football game where lack of atmosphere, as experienced at Darlington, is caused by a small crowd in a huge stadium.

Comment by geobra 2011-10-12 20:53:47

When stadiums are likely to be fairly empty, some atmosphere can be created by concentrating all the fans in one part of the ground. That's what Serie B AlbinoLeffe do with their 2000 fans in Bergamo's 25000 capacity stadium. And it's what I also noted when 11000 AEK fans filled just one section of the 70000 capacity Athens Olympic Stadium. Of course whether the atmosphere thus generated among the fans reaches the pitch is something one would have to ask the players.

Even films are more enjoyable and have more atmosphere when there's a good crowd in.

Comment by FCKarl 2011-10-12 23:39:14

I would say a very timely article. But, no, it is about 12 or 14 years too late. But, no, that is not Ian's fault.

Weren't we all told that we should have a "heart" for Africa and the plight of the people there? Didn't the execs at FIFA pluck at heartstrings and admonish us when we were very skeptical about South Africa hosting WC 2010? After all, they deserve to host too. They love this game just as much as you do.

FIFA in collusion with the mega construction companies (like HochTief from Germany) and the local politicians have fleeced the South African citizen taxpayers for decades.


This story is not so new. I think that the Montreal Canada Olympics finally got fully paid off (the total bill) about 9 months before opening kickoff (er, sorry, opening flame show) in Vancouver's Winter Games. The Montreal Summer Olympic Games were held in 1976.

So...tell me again...why did FIFA give the nod to Russia versus choosing England? And why Qatar (a country of only 284,000 indigenous people) versus the USA?

The FIFA bastards with names like Blatter, Platini, Beckenbauer have damned the people of South Africa for years. And those rats haven't the slightest compunction.

The "legacy" of South Africa will be further economic malaise, increased grotesque taxation against the citizens who are actually strugglying hard to make South Africa somehow better, more crime, stadium decay, stadium vandalism, ugly eyesores that will need to be torn down.

The stadia are the physical evidence monuments to greed, ego, arrogance, false hype, and stupidity.

The legacy is enhanced hurdles to break from the cycles of poverty.

Comment by FCKarl 2011-10-12 23:58:59

As for Paul Rowland's comment above, yes, spot on. This is exactly what the mayors, politicians, big corporate sponsors, promis, and figurehead has-been athletes now "face of the Games" do to you: They cajole. They harrangue. They, yes, even bully.

"Ya gotta get on board, man!"

Its unpatriotic to be doubtful about this.

Why they really want you on board?

Their own pockets (aka that country villa and/or the cottage on the Cote d'Azur).


"The whole country is celebrating a gift to all our people," Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych

Ha!

Tell that to the poor slob who lives just 38 km outside Kiev. A poor slob who works but never gets in to the the big city and could never really afford a ticket to any event at the 70,000 seater. All of this poor schmuck's taxes increase (home, car, sales, registrations, petrol) for the forseeable 25 years to finance the Ukrainian President's personal ego & financial goals.

Didn't the former Ukrainian President just get sentenced to 7 year in prison?

Comment by Janik 2011-10-13 14:29:49

Yes, she did. But whether that is because she is corrupt, or the current regime are corrupt and she threatens their chances of staying in power and so has been jailed to keep her out of the elections, is quite opaque.

Comment by Dalef65 2011-10-13 18:44:39

imp,
Would you care to tell us why you think that a 16 country WC with 4 African sides,4 South American,2 each from Asia/Oceana and Concacaf and only 4 European teams would result in a "far better quality of tournament"....?

In Concacaf only the USA and Mexico are really up to the standard of participating in World Cups(ok admittedly thats the 2 you speak of).........
But surely anybody can see that the African teams have generally gone backwards in the past 15-20 years.
On their showing in the past couple of WCs 2 or 3(max)from Africa would be a more realistic number of qualifiers...Not 4 or even 5 as at present.The stats just dont warrant it......

And only 4 European teams....? Come on now....Are you talking quality or political correctness here.....?

Comment by FCKarl 2011-10-15 08:55:35

First, Janik, I agree. We get so little good news coverage of things like the plight of modern Ukraine, it is so difficult to know. It could very well be that this case, process, and 7 year sentence against Ms. Timoshenko (former leader) is purposely to keep her off election day ballots for the next two election cycles.

Now -- back to "White Elephants"

Ian wrote, "Each new or reconstructed stadium should have a statutory plan for its use beyond the tournament's end, while FIFA and UEFA should be obliged to play a supportive role in construction...."

Second point first: No, I would't prefer any more FIFA or UEFA meddling. They assign the games host(s) based on a much better method of merit than what we now have (ref. Russia'18, Qatar'22) AND THEN GET OUT OF THE WAY. (and no hands on the proceeds)

The other issue: Ian, there are specifics to argue/debate, but in general I don't care if these stadiums and the public transport to access them are built. It is how they are financed and if government business egregiously grab land (land/city plots better used for other purposes) in clear government overreach and abuse.

Build the stadiums! Build 'em! But NOT at my expense, not at taxpayer expense. Top businessmen should only be "top" with acumen as assets. I'll let them do the calculations and fretting about future clubs using the stadia or future events to keep the place busy/financed.

As I wrote above, it's the fleecing of the public for Olympics and World Cups that is evil. Asking you, me, your neighbors, and neighborhood to cough up cold hard cash disguised as taxes -- for years -- to pay.

In the modern Olympic era, the Summer Games in Atlanta, USA were pilloried for being a sell-out to "big corporations." Sponsorship relationships for the games like never before. But that Atlanta IOC had as its foundational mantra: "So little public money expended as possible."

That has to be the way.

Ian, you are right about Leipzig. Of all things! The pragmatic? Germans choosing Leipzig as one of the host cities for a lot of sentimental reasons (and to 'throw a bone' to the Ossies/Easterners as no purely GDR/East German city was chosen to host -- Berlin does not really count). Leipzig's stadium is a perfect example for your main argument.

Note: Sitting in Kaiserslautern's Fritz-Walter-Stadion for a very dull 2. Bundesliga match in March 2009 it was impossible not to notice "emptiness." Yes, stadium emptiness. Not just the typical fewer attendees due to 2. Division status at that time for 1FCK, permanent emptiness in an entire side of the VIP lounges. EMPTY! Nothing there! At first it appeared as if still under construction. No! They'd been lavishly set up for June 2006 as I'd seen during WC 2006. But there, in March 2009, vacant. Just bare concrete as if waiting for the painters and electricians to come finish the job. Obviously no one interested to pay for their use during home matches.

Even the Germans fail at accurate planning/calculations for these "White Elephants."

Comment by geobra 2011-10-16 09:23:43

On the question of atmosphere, I think we should remember that despite nearly always being almost full, Old Trafford and The Emirates are often accused of lacking it. This seems to suggest that to create atmosphere, you need more than just 'bums on seats'.

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