Brazil May Turn Its Amazon Stadium into a Prison After 2014 World Cup

Ryan Bailey@ryanjaybaileyFeatured ColumnistSeptember 27, 2013


When the FIFA circus packed up and left South Africa in 2010, the host city was left with a number of world-class stadiums that have become white elephants. Cape Town's Green Point Stadium, for example, is now home to a small South African Premier League team and has hosted a handful of concerts for U2, Bon Jovi and Justin Bieber. But eye-watering operational costs and low income have led to calls for it to be demolished and turned into affordable housing.   

The white elephant fear is also striking a number of Brazilian World Cup stadiums, most notably the Arena da Amazonia, which is located 1,500 miles from Rio de Janeiro in Manaus, a city in the Amazon rain forest.

The futuristic-looking 44,500-seat stadium has cost around $240 million so far, according to AS.com, but it is being used for just four group-stage matches and not at all in the knockout rounds. Mathematics fans will note that that is a cost of $60 million per game so far.

With only a few minor third- and fourth-division sides interested in taking up tenancy after the tournament, there are legitimate concerns that the stadium will not earn its keep.

The stadium in July 2013 (arenadaamazonia.com.br)
The stadium in July 2013 (arenadaamazonia.com.br)

However, a unique and sustainable proposal has been submitted to local organisers and residents: turn the stadium into a prison.

According to France24.comSabino Marques, a local judge and president of the Amazonas prison system’s monitoring group, will submit a formal request to turn the venue "into a centre for temporary detainees."

The current Manaus prison, the Raimundo Vidal Pessoa, was only intended to hold around 300 prisoners, but it is currently packed to the rafters with over 1,000 occupants. 

The prison plan, however, has so far been rebuffed by local officials, who insist the future of the stadium should be based around entertainment, culture and sporting events. A civil engineer has labelled the proposal as "ridiculous," again per France24.com, quite rightly pointing out that the structure of a prison is quite different from that of a stadium.

But if Manaus wishes to avoid a Green Point-style white elephant, they may need to reconsider the unusual tender.

The stadium in September 2013 (arenadaamazonia.com.br)
The stadium in September 2013 (arenadaamazonia.com.br)

The New York Times recently pointed out the incredible difficulty of actually building a stadium within 2.1 million square miles of rain forest. The extreme humidity can cause the steel structure to buckle, the searing equatorial sun can strip the seats of their colour. Most building supplies have been shipped from Portugal due to the difficulty of getting them there by road.

The Arena da Amazonia was supposed to open in July, but due to the kind of delays that have plagued many of Brazil's new World Cup stadiums, they are now hoping to open in December, with the pitch being laid next month.

There is now a mad scramble to finish the project before November, when the rainy season will flood the area and virtually halt all construction.  

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