When it’s filled with 67,000 fans singing so loud and jumping so hard that you can feel the concrete stands vibrating under your feet, the Morumbi football stadium is a remarkable place.
It might lack the romance of Rio’s Maracanã, but like that legendary arena, and many of the other 10 stadiums hoping to host a match in the 2014 World Cup finals, the home of São Paulo Futebol Club has seen better days.
Thirty months after football’s governing body, Fifa, unanimously chose the country to host the game’s biggest prize, Brazil has done next to nothing to prepare stadiums and infrastructure.
“I got a report on the status quo of the Brazilian stadiums,” Fifa’s secretary-general Jérôme Valcke said earlier this month. “I have to say it is not very nice. It is amazing how Brazil is already late. And I am not just talking about the Morumbi or Maracanã stadiums.”
Most of Brazil’s football stadiums are falling apart and yet the prestige of hosting a World Cup game is so high in this football-crazy nation that Fifa allowed Brazil to select 12 host cities instead of the normal 10.
Three of the arenas – including São Paulo’s Morumbi – are owned by local clubs and the other nine are municipal or state run. Some new stadiums will be built and others will be modernised but only the public ones are entitled to receive up to R$400m (€180m) in government loans.
The problem facing São Paulo and the other two privately owned stadiums is how to fund the necessary reforms. The club does not want to take outside money and be forced to share management of the ground. But ticket prices are so low and it can only hire out the arena for concerts half a dozen times a year. Paying back even a low-interest loan would be a major struggle.
There are additional problems in the area around the ground. Although the city has hinted it could spend up to R$200m to ready the surroundings, that idea has been criticised because Morumbi is a well-to-do residential area hardly in need of revitalisation.
“Morumbi is not like the East End of London, it’s middle-class and not at all run down so why build a monorail from the airport to the stadium or a metro or car parks?” says Fernando Araujo, a sports marketing consultant and lecturer in arena management.
“These will only be used on game day and so public funds will be paying to increase the patrimony of São Paulo football club.”
After several attempts, São Paulo last week won approval for its reform proposals. But it still needs to find the cash to pay for them. And Brazil needs to find its way.