Football: USA '94: The final analysis: Visions of the great indoors: Did the World Cup break new ground for spectators? Simon Inglis examines the legacy of USA '94

Click to follow
The Independent Online
IN 1950, the World Cup brought us the Maracana, in 1970 the Azteca, followed four years later by the twisted, tented images of Munich. In 1990 came the great stadia of Rome, Bari, Milan, Turin and Genoa, each one of them flawed but inspirational, stamped indelibly upon our collective sporting memory.

But what of 1994? Here was a tournament which yielded the highest all-time average attendance of 68,604, yet cost a mere dollars 45m in improvements to the nine venues overall. That is less than the average expenditure on each of Italy's World Cup stadiums four years ago.

Three of the US stadiums, it is true - in Orlando, Dallas and New Jersey - would have graced any tournament. The Pontiac Silverdome was a dazzling oddball. But had Fifa insisted on bringing California's two venues, the Rose Bowl and Stanford Stadium, up to the standards which are now commonly required in Europe, USA '94's projected profits of dollars 20m would have sunk without trace in a vat full of concrete.

For each World Cup, Fifa issue a list of requirements for candidate nations. Like the Laws of the Game, they are wide open to interpretation. Candidates for 1990, for example, were advised that two- thirds of the seats should be covered by a roof or by overlapping stands. As a result, Naples, Rome and Milan each spent millions on sophisticated constructions.

For 1994, the requirement was conveniently dropped, hence the rather twee awnings we saw over the VIP sections in Chicago and Stanford (though not over any of the press areas).

Despite its billing as 'one of the most prestigious athletic facilities in the US', Stanford University's stadium was unquestionably the worst of the nine stadiums used this summer.

Built up on banks of earth visible beneath each bench seat, Stanford's gangway steps are formed by rough wooden planks, many of them splintered and uneven, like a village bull-ring in Spain. The rear sections of benches are built up on wooden struts, angled over a narrow, dusty and gloomy mid-level concourse. A British fire officer would faint.

Yet while this was deemed acceptable, Fifa refused to allow Orlando's Citrus Bowl to use much tidier demountable 'bleachers' which are otherwise deemed safe for NCAA college football games.

If Stanford was just primitive, the Rose Bowl was merely uncomfortable. In Britain accepted safety standards limit the number of individual seats between aisles to 28. At the Rose Bowl, where narrowly spaced aluminium benches predominate, there are up to 40 places between aisles. In the complete absence of any lateral gangways, long tunnels provide the only access from the outer concourse.

That, simply, is how the Rose Bowl managed to squeeze more than 94,000 people on to a single tier for the final, yet kept its preparation costs down to only pounds 1.2m. If only our own officials could be as easily seduced as Fifa's, Wembley would still hold 100,000.

In California, Fifa took a calculated gamble, and won. There were no serious incidents, although the absence of spectator cover at six of the venues forced hundreds to seek treatment for heat stroke; two hundred during one first-round game alone, according to a member of the Stanford University Hospital team.

Nevertheless it came as a surprise to read the following in an official panegyric on Joao Havelange published just before the World Cup and titled 90 Years of Fifa, 20 Years of Presidency: 'The question of refurbishing existing stadia to provide separate seats for spectators has been high on Fifa's agenda for years . . . other prerequisites are safe and easy access to the exits, medical and first-aid services, refreshment stands and public conveniences. Fully aware of its responsibility towards spectators and players, the world governing body has refused to make allowances or to compromise on these points.'

Fifa were right, however, to press ahead with games in the Pontiac Silverdome, if only to promote research which will have far-

reaching consequences for all turf-based sports. The miraculous Pontiac pitch is now gracefully retired to an athletics field in south Detroit, largely because no one wanted to buy it, even at seven cents a square foot. Meanwhile its undersoil is destined for use at golf courses.

All that is left are the 2,000 metal pans which interlocked to make up the rectangular pitch. Offers, please, at dollars 100 a go to Michigan State University's Crop and Soil Science department, developers of the system.

Associate Professor John 'Trey' Rogers, who led the research team, is certain that Pontiac is only the first step in a long-term development, one which will inevitably see speculators and promoters planning domed stadia all over Europe and Japan. Remember Terry Venables's novel They Used to Play on Grass? If Tel ever has the time, the sequel should be They Used to Play Outdoors.

But before traditionalists plunge too deeply into despair, the most likely application of the Pontiac system will be in existing stadiums which suffer from acute pitch deterioration - the San Siro in Milan being a prime candidate - or in one of the next generation of stadiums with retractable roofs. Europe's first is due to open in Amsterdam in 1996, but both Blackpool and Luton Town are rumoured to be interested, as are the French for their proposed 1998 World Cup stadium in Paris.

Already, this new 80,000 capacity Grande Stade is being costed at pounds 300m - 10 times the overall expenditure on all nine venues in the US. There is unlikely to be a high-yield, low-cost World Cup such as 1994 again, unless the tournament goes back soon to Italy or Mexico, or Fifa decide to reinterpret their own stadia criteria, in which case Russia and Romania might as well start bidding now. Otherwise, get out your diaries. Here is a possible World Cup schedule: 2002 Japan, 2006 England, 2010 South Africa, 2014 Germany and 2018 the United States.

(Photograph omitted)

Comments