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Brazil's World Cup challenges

Carlos de La Corte is an architect and leading technical consultant for stadium design for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, charged with liaising with FIFA. 

 

Q. What is your background and when did you first start working on stadia projects?

I graduated from the University of São Paulo, Brazil in 1994 and have been involved with sport and architecture ever since. I then studied for a Masters, which involved a lot of travel in Brazil and throughout Europe. I was awarded my doctorate for my study of Brazilian football stadia and was honoured to be invited to address the Brazilian parliament on the subject of stadium safety.

I worked for Bovis Lend Lease in Brazil, the multinational company responsible for the programme management of the 1996 Atlanta and 2000 Sidney Olympics and now the 2012 London Olympics, as well as consultancy for the Allianz Arena in Munich in Germany, the Yankee Stadium in New York, USA and Doha Sports City in Qatar. I progressed to country manager, leading a team of a 50 architects and engineers on contracts throughout Brazil and Latin America.

In 2008 I created the ARENA brand for the DARO group, to develop the sports market segment for design, consultancy and feasibility studies. The company has already developed various design proposals for sports arenas in Brazil, including a stadium in Osasco and a training centre in São Paulo State.

I attend symposia and congresses and speak at conferences around the world. I think the combination of an academic background and personal experience of working within the commercial market environment are both fundamental to keeping up-to-date with the latest international trends in the stadium industry.

Q. How do you see the stadium industry today?

The international stadium industry is divided between a US and European operating model. The US model, based on franchising, has much more commercial power and is much more uniform than the European one. Sport in the USA, from the 1960s and 1970s onwards, developed into a lifestyle issue, and has become an integral part of peoples’ day-to-day lives, despite some differences between the east and west coasts.

In Europe, the nature of the stadium industry is dependent on the individual country but there is a clear overall trend, reinforced by safety and comfort legislation and regulation, to increasingly view football as a marketable commodity. The UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain are already in a process of change, transforming their stadia into key assets for revenue generation and leveraging the financial potential for the club or stadium operator. Italy, followed by Turkey and Russia are also going down this path.

In Brazil the picture is very different. There has been minimal consideration of safety and comfort issues and totally inadequate provision of facilities for the fans. Fans are traditionally treated like animals; and often behave accordingly. This means that we start from a zero point, with a completely clean sheet. From the experience of the World Cup and the Olympic Games, we need to learn how to transform the way fans watch football in Brazil.

We now have the unique opportunity to target the ‘hardware’ – the stadium; and the ‘software’ – the Brazilian football-management model and the club structure. Both need drastic modernisation. However, the passion of the Brazilian fans and their fanaticism about football, which is at the heart of Brazilian culture, is a very valuable heritage. We need to improve spectactor behaviour without losing their passion and fanaticism.

Q. What projects are you currently working on?

Our office is playing a consultancy role for all 12 World Cup stadia on behalf of the 2014 local organising committee (LOC). Our remit is to consult and interface with the host-city architects, suggesting and discussing technical recommendations and making sure the design is aligned with the FIFA event concept. We are also there to encourage the architects to modify their plans if that would lead to better legacy use, in terms of easy operation, comfort, safety and potential revenue leverage.

Q. What are the major challenges facing Brazil in preparing its stadia for the 2014 World Cup?

Time. Time was something that we had a year ago. But it is something that can never be recaptured – it is so easy to slip from being on schedule to being behind. We need to speed up construction kick-offs, urgently.

Q. What are the major opportunities?

The opportunity is to leave a legacy for the next 100 years of football in Brazil. This legacy will be visible in terms of modern facilities and safer stadia but no less important is the opportunity to force through a profound change in the mentality behind Brazilian football – in the clubs and football industry as a whole. It has to be transformed from a passion into a business backed by professional management and organisation. The Brazilian football industry must be helped and forced to follow this road because, in the end, those clubs that fail to do so will not survive.

Q. What are the long-term-legacy challenges facing Brazil?

Legacy has to be planned, it does not happen by itself. It is urgent for stadia with no football clubs, or with poor potential revenue from football, to plan their legacy use now and integrate the design into their local city plan.

This is the ‘Bilbao musem’ model, where the stadium can be used as an urban regeneration tool, a catalyst to change the life of the city’s inhabitants. The model demands the creation of public organisations, parks, social and cultural events, public departments and many other organizations that can make use of the stadium spaces. Some venues will also need downsizing after the World Cup, to reduce operating and maintenance costs.

Stadia, with the potential of making an operating profit, face the challenge of restructuring their partnership with the home football club. There needs to be research among fans to find out what they want and then efforts made to match facilities to their needs. Fans deserve to be treated well and offered an excellent facility.

Driven by old-fashioned thinking, at present, most football clubs in Brazil are convinced that they must be in the driving seat. The argument is that, because they attract huge loyalty from their fans and the fans bring in the majority of the revenue, they have no further responsibility and should not have to invest in the stadium. However, current club managers must understand that professionalism and professional management is absolutely necessary. Where a football club does not change, just like putting contaminated petrol in a superb Formula 1-car engine, the stadium will not run effectively. The hardware of the stadium needs the right software – a professionally run football club.

For me, the challenge around the long-term legacy is all about getting this equation right. If that formula is right, Brazilian football will be transformed and the stadia will play an important and leading role in that transformation.

Q. Does Brazil have the expertise to run and operate the venues successfully after the World Cup?

Not today – not yet! We have four years to learn, to be trained and watch what has been done abroad. We have the capacity. Running a stadium is something for professionals, but it is not a monstrous task. I am confident we will soon have effective Brazilian groups, with or without foreign participation, which will be able to run our stadia successfully.

Good examples are today’s shopping malls or commercial complexes where, initially, Brazilian companies had no experience of running them but now there are very successful in-country operators. Of course, we need to learn from the USA and Europe but we need to find an authentic Brazilian way to cater for, in the case of stadia, the Brazilian fan.

Q. What can Brazil learn from South Africa and other World Cup hosts?

We can learn that time is short and that planning is everything and that without great investment and integration between federal government, host cities and the LOC, the event could be at risk. We can also see that, if well planned, the event can leave a great legacy for the country, not only in terms of profit but also in terms of tourism, business and the well being of the people in general.

Q. What is the most frustrating aspect of your work regarding Brazil 2014?

The public tender process in Brazil is very bureaucratic and some officials running the operation of these processes in public departments have inadequate skills to be able to effectively handle such a complex programme of tendering and building as that involved in stadium construction.

The role of the architect in Brazil, as determined by the way architects are contracted, tends to weaken their influence, resulting in them being seen as accessories to the process rather than playing a leading and determining role. This was not helped by each city having to present a conceptual drawing to be chosen as a host city. This kicked off a back-to-front process, creating problems and complicated solutions for the client afterwards.

The way electoral politics operates in Brazil also gets in the way of the planning and approval processes, as it does in every other sector of Brazilian life. When there are elections, all projects that are not completely sewn up, are subject to a go-slow or even being re-interpreted in a completely different light. Political reform is urgently needed in Brazil; and, believe it or not, this affects not only the construction of the 2014 stadia but also the country’s whole infrastructure and the way it operates.

Q. What is your advice to suppliers and companies looking to win contracts in Brazil?

The Brazilian way of business is peculiar and needs translation to any company not familiar with the country – it is not an easy country to do business in. For foreign companies, doing business in Brazil can be compared to taking part in a marathon obstacle race where the obstacles include, onerous labour laws, an extremely complex tendering process, burdensome taxation and a market that in general is difficult for foreign companies to break into.

A good starting point is to get in touch with the relevant chamber of commerce, which will have information about tax policy and labour issues. Since the Brazilian market is very different, the first bit of advice to a foreign firm, wanting to establish itself here, must be to find a local partner; and the second is that it is crucial that the partner is the right one!

Q. What are Brazil’s chances of actually winning the World Cup in 2014?

We have a big ‘renovation’ challenge in respect of our team for 2014 too. If we transform the stadia, the football industry and the content of Brazilian football, I am sure, we will have a much greater chance of winning in 2014 and in many other World Cups too.

We need to rescue our best players from the situation where they do not see a future for themselves in Brazil and leave to go abroad to play for foreign clubs. The only way this can be done is by aligning Brazilian football with modern market trends in the international game – otherwise it will not work. Hopefully, the new team for 2014 will also represent the kick-off of a new type of football management in Brazil.

Personally, I feel very proud of having been given this opportunity to contribute to the designs and the architecture of what will be a new era in Brazilian stadia that will have a determining influence on Brazilian football and Brazilian life for many decades to come. 

 

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