The Mane Garrincha stadium, named after one of Brazil’s greatest players and built ahead of the 2014 World Cup, is beautiful and enormous.
Its only problem? Being built in a city with no decent teams and where almost no one watches live soccer.
As Russia puts the finishing touches to its preparations for the World Cup this summer, this Brazilian white elephant offers a stark warning of what can go wrong.
The last proper use of the Mane Garrincha was a year and a half ago during the Olympics. At best today, you can catch games like that February 21 clash, where the tiny crowd watched Brasiliense win 1-0 on a penalty, surrounded by an ocean of empty seats.
Brasilia does not even have a local club in the top three national divisions.
All agree that the Mane Garrincha looks enticing. Costing an estimated $500 million to build, with 288 slender columns and blood-red grandstands, it is a jewel of sporting architecture.
Yet in 2017 it did not host a single big game and instead became a center for a weird mixture of non-footballing activities — weddings, obstacle course contests, private parties.
Some of the stadium’s office space now serves the local government. Municipal buses use the empty carpark as a depot.
“It’s an elephant, but more colorful than just white,” said Jaime Recena, tourism secretary for the capital. “We have to think of more colorful ways out than for the other World Cup stadiums.”
Inside, you still find logos from the long forgotten games played here during the Olympics.
In one of the offices, which have a panoramic view of the pitch, there’s a handwritten list of events planned for 2018:
World Water Forum, the 42nd Congress of the Brazilian Zoos and Aquariums Society, and two concerts, one of them by ex-Pink Floyd star Roger Waters.
“It was a bad decision building it,” said Julio Cesar Reis, president of Brasilia’s development agency, which financed the stadium with tax money. “We’ve had so many difficulties since then and we stopped investing in urban infrastructure like water, roads and energy.”
The agency hopes that it will soon sign a deal in which the stadium will be developed to include stores and pedestrian areas and entertainment.
“We need to attract big events, but this isn’t the state’s role,” Reis said.