OLD STADIUMS NEVER DIE THEY JUST FADE AWAY
By all accounts, the fan experience at the current World Cup in Qatar takes some beating. Leaving aside all the controversy swirling around the choice of venue (Choice? There was no choice!) and the human rights of its citizens and indentured labourers, to say nothing of the alcohol ban - a large aside, I grant you – there is much that the spectators can enjoy. I am not referring to the football; that obviously can, and does, speak for itself. Those who have found getting to and from Wembley a nightmare and found the stadium facilities, infrastructure, service and officialdom less than agreeable will have been pleasantly surprised by the ease, the speed, the efficiency and the cleanliness of the whole match day experience. No hint of trouble, no sign of hooliganism, no hold-ups or bureaucratic bungling, no slow-moving queues, no fights, no drunkenness. Compare the orderliness of Doha with the disgraceful scenes at Wembley eighteen months ago at the final of the Euros.
It helps of course that Qatar is the same size as Yorkshire, which makes travelling between venues, aided by a spanking new metro system, a doddle. The stadiums are all brand-new, state of the art, expertly designed and built to the highest specifications, wonderful stages for the players to perform and for the spectators to watch.
All this, of course, has come at a huge cost, both materially and human, the rights and wrongs of which have been exhaustively discussed. The whole thing, a World Cup in the middle of a desert, has been a remarkable feat of planning and engineering, but I cannot help but feel it is an enormous white elephant. What on earth is going to happen to those spanking new stadiums once the carnival has moved on? How will the Qataris ever fill them again? To what possible use can they subsequently be put?
On a recent visit to South Africa, I took a detour – unintended, I have to admit – around Green Point in Cape Town. I found myself uneasily nosing my way around the perimeter of the stadium that had been built for the World Cup of 2010. The whole place was visibly crumbling, weeds were sprouting up through the concrete of the car parks, graffiti defaced the walls, gates were padlocked, doors and windows were boarded up, waifs and strays and the sad detritus of a drug-ridden underclass were skulking in makeshift tents and shelters. The whole scene was dismal and desolate. Such is the inheritance of a ruinously expensive project that the country could not afford. Vast stadiums were built in cities that simply didn’t need them, many of which have fallen into disrepair. The World Cup of 2010 was an appalling exercise in hubris, by Sepp Blatter, by FIFA and by the ANC government in South Africa, leaving no tangible legacy beyond a phalanx of costly and mostly useless stadiums.
As I watched the skyscrapers and the vast amphitheatres slowly grow in the desert of Qatar, the sonnet Ozymandias, by Percy Bysshe Shelley (what fun my class had with his middle name when we discussed the poem) came into my mind. The persona begins thus:
“I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said, ‘Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the ground
Half shrunk, a shattered visage lies….’”
This ruin was once an awe-inspiring statue of an ancient potentate, the pharaoh Rameses II.
“And on the pedestal, these words appear,
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings,
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing besides remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
I wonder whether at some time in the distant future a traveller might come across these decaying wrecks in the desert that were once football stadiums and consider the folly of Man and his overweening vanity. For that is what the Qatar World Cup really is, an ostentatious monument to greed and egotism, built on shifting sand.