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Sports Management
2014 issue 3

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Leisure Management - Front row seat

Visiting Brazil 2014

Front row seat

Charles Cooke, associate principal at sports architects Populous put down his tools and travelled to Brazil this summer to experience the World Cup from a fan’s perspective. Now back in London he reflects on the tournament, the atmosphere and the management of the event and its facilities

Charles Cooke, sports architects Populous
Fans inside the 58,170-capacity Mineirão stadium in Belo Horizonte - the venue for the infamous Brazil v. Germany (1-7) game
The carnival atmosphere outside the arena
Arena das Dunas in Natal – designed by Populous and inspired by the region's famous sand dunes
The buildings surrounding the lake designed by Oscar Niemeyer
The entrance to the Mineirão stadium – the familiar branding of the World Cup was omnipresent

My dad and I have been talking about going to a World Cup for a number of years. Brazil, with its reputation as the soul of football, was an opportunity too good to miss. We spent two years planning the trip. The itinerary was determined by the tickets we could secure in the FIFA ballot and via the Football Association (FA), where supporters have to earn the right to purchase tickets through support of the England team over time.

In the end, we were incredibly lucky to get tickets for five group matches, including two of England’s fixtures and Brazil’s Round of 16 game. Five of the matches were in Belo Horizonte and one in Sao Paulo. Sadly our trip did not include a visit to Arena das Dunas in Natal, which was designed by my colleagues at Populous. By the time we returned home, we’d flown 17,200 miles and met hundreds of international football fans and even more welcoming Brazilians.

Opening Match
Brazil shuts down when the “seleção” plays and fans pile into the bars. Arriving in Belo Horizonte, the pre-match build-up was well underway. The Brazilians like to make a din in the run-up to a Brazil game and use anything at their disposal – car horns, whistles, any type of airhorns that can be blown, fire crackers and fireworks. The streets had military police and army personnel on every corner, with helicopters hovering overhead monitoring any small protests that took place at the beginning of the tournament. In short, the atmosphere was electric.

We squeezed into a local bar and, being the first of the overseas fans to arrive, our flag was soon out. By the time we headed home, most of the bar had been photographed by the St George cross.

The new rapid bus transport route from the city to Pampulha – the district where the stadium is located – was only partly built by the time the first match kicked off.  Special buses ran from the city centre to the stadium; not from the central bus station or a local landmark but from a seemingly random street – this is Brazil after all!

Some fans worked out the local bus services, plenty paid for a cab, other fans got accommodation close to the stadium (and complained there was no nightlife). In the end, 57,174 people managed to get to the matches by one means or another.

Attending a World Cup match when you are not affiliated to either team is incredibly enjoyable. You have no need to worry about the result and you can party with both sets of supporters. We chose to tackle our first game, Columbia versus Greece, as England fans, with shirt, cap and flags.

It took 90 minutes to walk from the bus stop to the stadium due to the number of times we were stopped for photographs. We loved it! The interaction with other fans is something special that you will only experience at a football tournament. We had a similar experience at Belgium v Algeria.  For the Argentina v Iran game we went ‘undercover’ as Brazilian supporters and backed Iran. The Iranians fed off the support they were getting due to the South American rivalry. Iran were unlucky to have been beaten by a Lionel Messi wonder goal.

Mineirao, Belo Horizonte
The Mineirao stadium was built in 1965 and was refurbished for the World Cup by BCMF architects. The building is protected which prevented it from being demolished. The bones of the building are a simple and elegant concrete structure. To that a new, lightweight steel and fabric roof and a new podium structure were added to accommodate FIFA’s programme requirements. The stadium's playing pitch was lowered and the surrounding running track was removed. The seating bowl is shallow and spread over two continuous tiers. You can see everyone in the stadium and the sightlines are good everywhere except around the lateral gangways which are frequented by ice cream and popcorn sellers. It works well for Mexican waves and roars with noise during moments of excitement.

The upper concourses are limited in size by the extent of the original façade - this made them tight and after the first match we avoided them at half time.

The Mineirao has a wonderful setting near a huge artificial lake that was commissioned in the 1940s by then Mayor Juscelino Kubitschek. The new neighbourhood was landscaped by Brazilian architect Robert Burle Marx with the surrounding buildings designed by another famed Brazilian – Oscar Niemeyer.

The stadium is home to two of Brazil’s most successful football teams, Cruzeiro and Atletico Mineiro, so it will be well used after the World Cup. In Belo, the rivalry between the two sets of fans is intense. During quieter moments in the stadium, a Cruzeiro song would start up – followed by booing and a rival Atletico chant. It was like having four sets of fans inside the ground.

The Mineirao is the first stadium in the world to be fully powered by solar energy. It also collects and uses vast quantities of rainwater and makes use of the nearby lake for cooling. Interestingly, the impressive eco-friendly solutions have been designed to be very subtle. There's no 'green bling’ – in fact no visible evidence at all of any of the admirable measures in place.

Another astute step was to introduce strong, reusable plastic cups – rather than weak, single-use ones – branded with the match details. This reduced waste, as it encouraged fans to take the cups home. In fact people collected them, with many fans fishing discarded ones out of bins.

Public Order
We saw very little disorder during our time in Brazil. The authorities had a big security presence outside the stadiums and were available to move into the stadium when required.

In Sao Paulo we had FA tickets for the Uruguay match, so we were sitting with all the other England fans. The tier above us was a temporary addition for the World Cup and some fans preferred to stand at the front of the lower tier rather than occupy their seats in the upper tier.  

We noticed at several matches that fans often stood. This is something future organisers could consider in terms of stadium design. Being able to stand, dance and celebrate added to the atmosphere and carnival nature but should not be at the expense of fans who want to sit. It should be safe standing rather than the uncontrolled movement of fans that we witnessed in Sao Paulo.

Dream Quarter Final
Had England managed to qualify for it, they would have met Brazil in the quarter finals. Instead, Brazil played Columbia. Our travel arrangements were already in place and we hoped we might still be able to buy tickets.  As it turned out, because Brazil were in the quarter final, interest in the match was huge and tickets – if you could find one – were trading for thousands of dollars. Instead we recreated England v Brazil on the beach, invited by the locals to take part in five-a-side in the 32C heat. Back heels and volley’s being the only acceptable way of scoring a goal!

THE Final
After a brief stop in Rio – just long enough to sample the magnificent views of Rio from Sugar Loaf Mountain and the bohemia of Lapa – we started our departure by setting ourselves up in Sao Paulo to watch the final. Sunday is also market day and there's a great antiques market under the Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo building, which was designed by Lina Bo Bardi. Walking around the market felt just like a regular Sunday.

Sao Paulo is just such a big city it was impossible for every part of it to be affected by the World Cup and Avenue Paulista was full of flaneurs and cyclists as usual, who were benefitting from the freedom of the bank-sponsored traffic lane closure. Come Monday (the day after the final), the German team had been crowned World Champions and the incessant traffic was again roaring down Sao Paulo’s inner city dual carriageways as life got back to normal.

So was it the best ever World Cup? Perhaps. What I’ll remember most were the people we met – the fans and most of all the smiling and welcoming Brazilians who made it such a special experience.

About the author

Charles Cooke is an associate principal at sports architects Populous. Populous has 30 years’ experience in sports stadia and arenas, and has designed stadia for three FIFA World Cups. It also designed the Fisht Olympic Stadium in Sochi - the venue for this year’s Winter Olympics and a future host to FIFA World Cup matches in 2018.

Charles is a passionate football fan and as well as England, follows Portsmouth FC. He is currently working on football projects for Manchester City and Southend United and secretly planning his next sabbatical for Euro 2016 in France.


Charles (in cap on right holding the England flag) and his dad with other fans

Originally published in Sports Management 2014 issue 3

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