The FIFA World Cup is the biggest sporting event in the world, far exceeding that of the Super Bowl. In 2014, 111.5 million peopled tuned in to watch the Super Bowl worldwide. Well, that’s a fifth grade play compared to the audience of the World Cup. In 2010, 909.6 million watched Spain defeat the Netherlands in South Africa.
The first World Cup was held in 1930 in Uruguay and every four years since the world has come together to play a few games of soccer. Except in 1942 and 1946 when a little known event called World War II kind of ruined everything.
Since around the 1950s, the World Cup has been a massive spectacle. Millions, pushing close to billions now, tune in every four years to watch the tournament, even if their own country isn’t taking part. Nations go out of their way to create lavish stadiums that show off how great they are to the rest of the world, but sometimes these vanity projects can backfire.
With 20 World Cups played in 21 host nations, there have been a few bad apples in the bunch. Sure, a lot of these stadiums go almost completely unused after the World Cup, essentially wasting millions of dollars, but some of the arenas were never great to begin with. It’s okay to use a pre-existing stadium, but maybe not one that’s several decades old and is falling apart for example.
Over the years, the World Cup has been affected by wars, military coups, natural disasters, and Sepp Blatter. But what were the worst places World Cup matches were held?
10 Allianz Arena – Germany
Germany is one of many countries on this list that built a stadium specifically for the World Cup. Unlike Brazil or South Africa recently, Germany is a financial powerhouse and it shows with the Allianz Arena.
Finished in 2005, the stadium boasts many luxurious features. It glows in the dark from the outside, it has Europe’s largest parking facility, seats over 70,000, and boasts many modern facilities inside.
But this article is supposed to be about the worst venues and while the stadium itself is nice, the location isn’t so great. It’s located right next to both a landfill and a sewer treatment plant. You have to wonder why anyone would drop €340 million on a stadium in such a prime location.
9 Soldier Field – United States
Chicago’s Soldier Field was once a historic place, known for the football feats of the Chicago Bears. When the US hosted the World Cup in 1994, one of the locations picked was that iconic stadium.
Unfortunately, the legend is no match for reality.
The stadium itself is pretty terrible. For decades, the turf has been decried as a slippery mess. Whenever it rains or snows, a frequent occurrence in Chicago, the field becomes soup. The snow wasn’t a problem in the summer of 1994 of course, the seating was. Back then, Soldier Field only seated 60,000. Even in a country that doesn’t much care for soccer, that wasn’t enough.
When the US pitched a bid to host the 2022 World Cup, Chicago was left out of the picture entirely due to its poor seating arrangement specifically.
8 Arena Pernambuco – Brazil
Quite possibly the wettest World Cup Stadium ever, it rains on average 224 days out of the year in São Lourenço da Mata, the location of this stadium.
The location is also an odd one, something that came to symbolize Brazil’s World Cup in 2014. The Arena Pernambuco was built in an economically depraved area and is meant to be the foundation of a multimillion residential redevelopment project.
Best of all, the streets of São Lourenço da Mata tend to flood after any amount of rain, something that happens quite often if you weren’t paying attention.
And if we’re talking about low capacity, Arena Pernambuco only seats 46,000. And that’s in Brazil, a place that absolutely loves soccer.
7 2002 Japan and South Korea
Remember how there are 20 World Cups but 21 host nations? Well, in 2002, FIFA decided to try something new and feature co-hosting nations. Japan and South Korea both put in a bid for the 2002 World Cup and while they both made it to the final three, they were definitely going to lose to Mexico.
So the two nations had a heartwarming moment and decided to share the World Cup. FIFA voted on its first co-hosting nations, and a terrible World Cup was born.
Just because Japan and South Korea are geographically close doesn’t mean they’re identical. They’ve very different countries who happen to hate each others guts, dating back through hundreds of years of wars. This animosity carried over to the stadiums, where each country tried to one up each other. The end result was 20 different stadiums across the two nations.
These two nations aren’t as close as you think. No map does the vast distance between the two any justice. The Guardian's Guillem Balague put it best.
“It takes 22 hours to get from Shizuoka in Japan to Gwangju in Korea and three trains, one taxi, one night hotel, one plane, one subway and two coaches, as well as four security checks. Not the only nightmarish story about traveling. ”
The average distance between Japan and South Korea is 702 miles, roughly the same as between New York and Indianapolis. Although that doesn’t factor in traveling between countries; having to deal with security and customs multiple times, dealing with multiple languages, and traveling to a ridiculous 20 different stadiums between the two.
This World Cup convinced FIFA to not use co-hosting nations and limit hosting nations to just 9 to 12 stadiums. It’s not often one World Cup brings that much change.
6 Estadio Amazonia – Brazil
When you think of the Amazon Rainforest, what do you think of? A lush jungle full of exotic creatures? One of the natural wonders of the world? How about a massive soccer stadium in the middle of it?
For some reason, Brazil thought putting a World Cup stadium in the middle of the world’s biggest rainforest was a fabulous idea. During construction, the stadium was plagued by the death of three workers, constant delays and going over budget.
It got so bad that several bathrooms were unfinished by the time the World Cup started, because workers went on strike due to the poor safety conditions. Labor oversight committees actually said the site was “unacceptably dangerous” and builders said it was “rated zero for safety.”
And just for extra measures, the pitch became so bad in the lead up to the first match thatemergency repairs had to be made right before the match. The cause? Over fertilization. The people who chopped down half the rainforest don’t know how to take care of some grass? Who would have guessed?
5 Mbombela Stadium – South Africa
Mbombela Stadium, located in Nelspruit, South Africa, has had problems since it’s completion in 2009, just before the 2010 World Cup. It had to be re-laid twice, once because of rain turning into soup and a second time just months later because it was so poorly laid out the previous time it eroded into a sandpit covered with birds.
Complaints continued about the pitch well after the World Cup, as recently as 2013.
Worse than the pitch is the surrounding area of Nelspruit. Surrounding the stadium is a barbed wire designed to keep the people of the town out. Mbombela Stadium is built in an extremely poverty stricken area. Reports indicate that the stadium was built instead of previously promised housing and schools. Whistle-blowers regarding the project all wound up dead under mysterious conditions, just in case this all wasn’t shady enough.
4 1938 France
Global politics and the impending feeling of war and doom sometimes wreak havoc on many things, the World Cup included.
FIFA, headquartered in Berlin of all places, picked France for the 1938 World Cup two years prior. By the time the World Cup began, tensions were a bit on the high side throughout Europe and only two non-European teams participated at all.
Italy and Germany heavily propagandized the game, England boycotted that year, and there were widespread allegations that Italy bribed referees. Add to that the Italian backing of Franco in the Spanish Civil War and Mussolini’s anti-French statements a month before kick-off, and Mussolini sending a telegram to the Italian team before the final saying “Win or Die!” and you have a good idea of the climate was like.
It would have been best for the World Cup not to have been held that year, because the World Cup would turn into World War just a year later. The World Cup wouldn’t be held again until 1950.
3 1962 Chile
On May 22nd, 1960, Chile was hit by two earthquakes in Valdivia which killed anywhere from 2,500 to 6,000 people. An exact death toll is unknown, but it left millions homeless. It’s the largest earthquake ever recorded and caused a massive tsunami that killed people in Chile, Japan, the Philippines, and the US.
Needless to say, the World Cup wasn’t on many people’s mind at the time. But FIFA pressed on. Three venues were so badly damaged they had to be discarded and two backup cities declined because they were financially crippled. One of the stadiums had to be a small, local arena owned by the Braden Copper Company.
In all, only four stadiums were used that year, with just one with a greater capacity than 18,000. With most hotels fully booked or destroyed, the England National team had to stay at bungalows in the mountains owned by the Braden Copper Company. Then, one month before play began, the president of the organization that organized the World Cup, Carlo Dittborn, died of a heart attack.
But it doesn’t stop there. Italian journalists were less than thrilled with the situation, apparently they were taking “the biggest earthquake in human history followed by a tsunami that killed people as far away as Japan” as an excuse. They mocked the capital city of Santiago as a slum and called the local women loose. This got back to the Chile team, who just happened to be playing Italy in Santiago on June 2.
The first foul occurred 12 seconds into the match. One Chilean player was ejected after 12 minutes after trying to start a brawl with an Italian, but had to be dragged away by the police after refusing to leave the pitch. Two players ended up punching each other and one got kicked in the head, resulting in another ejection. Soon, a full scale fight broke out, resulting in one Italian player getting a broken nose. Police had to march on the field to break up the fight. Chile ended up winning the match 2-0 in what would go on to be called “the Battle of Santiago.”
It’s no fault of Chile’s that the World Cup was essentially held on minor league fields and teams had to be put up in sleazy motels. They couldn’t have predicted the earthquake and they certainly can’t be blamed for prioritizing reconstruction over a sporting event.
2 1978 Argentina
Unlike Chile, the 1978 Argentina World Cup is entirely the fault of its government. In 1976, a military coup overthrew the government and installed a cruel dictatorship. In fact, the government held concentration camps throughout the country, some so close occupants could hear the roar of the crowds during the tournament. Many nations were debating whether or not to skip the World Cup entirely, but all fully participated anyway.
Furthermore, when Argentina needed four goals to advance to the next round in a match against Peru, Argentina won 6-0. There is widespread speculation that the Argentine government played some role in bribing Peruvian players, either through their Argentine goalkeeper, offering money, unfreezing bank accounts, and a Peruvian politician even claims the Argentine government traded 13 Peruvian dissidents in exchange for the win. None of these claims could be proven however and Argentina would go on to win their first World Cup that year.
1 2018 Russia and 2022 Qatar
It’s impossible to separate these two future World Cup hosts. Both accused of heavy corruption along with the now decimated FIFA organization, they very well could be stripped of their host status. But it’s too late, too late for the countless number of people who have died building stadiums.
The small potatoes of this is that Russia did such a terrible job in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, that they’re likely to do no better with the World Cup. Stadiums were half finished, hotels were in a state of disrepair, and the threat of terrorism was constantly looming over the games. In Qatar, it's so hot in the summer, that the World Cup has to be pushed to later in winter, thus interfering with pre-scheduled matches and traditions in all countries involved.
The real issue is the human toll of what used to be a game and is now a business corrupt to its core. In Qatar, migrant workers are dying on average once every two days. As of May this year, 1,200 migrant workers have died in total, just constructing a few stadiums. Workers passports are taken by the construction companies meaning migrants can’t leave. Nepalese workers are saying they haven’t been paid in months, their pay being held so they don’t run away from the harsh conditions, and workers have to pay for every drop of water, something they can’t even do if they aren’t getting paid. The average temperature in Qatar in the summer is 106 degrees, sometimes surpassing 114 degrees.
Russia, who continues to send troops to instigate civil war in Ukraine and whose neighboring countries are terrified they’re going to be next, almost looks quaint next to Qatar.
So enjoy the 2018 and 2022 World Cup, because the mortar holding the bricks together is mixed with blood.
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