As Colombia and the U.S. get set to kick off the Centennial Copa America in Santa Clara, California tonight, it’s hard not to think back wistfully on our own Copa America, now 9 years ago. The air was loaded with a “qué de pinga” vibe back in 2007. Oil prices were on the rise, and state of the art stadiums were springing up around the country. La Vinotinto was actually good back then, and we all stood as one country in support, together, for the first time in ages.
That was then.
Today, we’re in La Resaca, wondering where the nice vibe went…and what we actually got back for the millions spent on those shiny new stadiums.
Nine venues were either revamped or built from scratch for the 2007 Copa. Here’s how they are now:
- Estadio José Encarnación “Pachencho” Romero, Maracaibo, Zulia: Of all stadiums used in 2007, none is in worse shape than Maracaibo’s Pachencho Romero. The seats, once bright zuliano blue and red, have paid the price of nine years under the maracucho sun. The bathrooms are deplorable, with sinks and toilets missing. The pitch needs to be replaced entirely. Even the office areas have been vandalized. Attempts to restore the venue have gone sour, with one case in particular setting off alarms: to shave off costs in restoring a section of the stands, a contractor used rusty rebars for the job, leading a union leader to say: “if the stadium were used to its full capacity, it might not be able to support the weight and will most likely cave in”. Pachencho is that critical.
- Estadio Monumental de Maturín, Monagas: A trainwreck from the start. Where to begin? The largest stadium in the country is located in the ninth most populated city, and not a particularly fútbol-crazy city, either. Monagas state has had troubles with the upkeep since it was built, largely because the drainage system wasn’t installed properly. The pitch has flooded over and over again, costing huge amounts of money that don’t seem justifiable. The Monumental is a monumental white elephant. Just look at the pictures!
- Estadio Olímpico de la Universidad Central de Venezuela, Caracas, Distrito Capital: Anywhere you look, something needs to be fixed. Common areas look abandoned, with a considerable amount of floor tiles missing. The electronic scoreboard installed for the Copa América only kind of works. The seating areas are in terrible shape: the south end of the stands is missing thousands of chairs and the main stand could use new ones. All this, excluding the condition the pitch is in: large patches of dirt instead of grass and an irregular surface, making the simple task of kicking a ball a hassle for players. As Guillermo Salas reminds us, the Olimpico is part of a World Heritage site: “ It could resemble more a work of art than a sporting venue, but its current state makes you forget all the marvels it has to offer”.
The Could-Be-Worse Set:
- Estadio Olímpico José Antonio Anzoátegui, Puerto La Cruz, Anzoátegui: Ever since the Vinotinto stopped playing here, this venue has lost a lot of its quality. Repairs are few and far between in one unfinished project for the Copa América. The press area was placed in the middle of the VIP section, prompting event organizers to relocate journalists every single game, since those seats are the most expensive in the stadium. It isn’t falling apart, really, but it sure could use a lot of work.
- Estadio Agustín Tovar “La Carolina”, Barinas, Barinas: Another unfinished stadium, but one that’s at least functional. Home of Apertura 2016 champions, Zamora FC, La Carolina was what originally stadiums are supposed to be: an investment in sports. It doesn’t hurt that the chairman of the team is none other than Adelis Chávez, you-know-who’s brother, but in reality the stadium seems to be in okay condition, although not entirely finished. It’s located in the city of Barinas, not on the outskirts, which comes in handy, but it isn’t much more than a small sized venue. Un potrero fancy, basically.
- Estadio Metropolitano de Lara, Cabudare, Lara: What was one of the most promising projects on the eve of Copa América 2007, ended up being just another overpriced and unfinished venue for the tournament. Larenses would have to wait another couple of years just to see the stadium finished; forget about the other facilities it was supposed to include, such as the three pitches, the two thousand square meter plaza “for public events”, or even the full capacity that was designed – theoretically, the Metropolitano was meant to host over 47 thousand people, but depending on who you ask the number dwindles to over 40 thousand or about 39 thousand. Nowadays the roof above the stands is done, but the surrounding areas are, well, a cemetery –literally. The screens don’t work, because all the technical equipment was stolen, the pitch’s quality has its ups and downs, and the bathrooms, locker rooms and news offices are in really bad shape. As if this weren’t enough to deal with, the electric supply has been known to fail as well.
- Estadio Polideportivo de Pueblo Nuevo, San Cristóbal, Táchira: “The Temple” to tachirenses, Pueblo Nuevo is one of the better kept stadiums. They’ve had some problems with the roof over the main stand, but that was looked after rather diligently. The pitch is subpar and the seats don’t seem to be in the best of shape, but the infrastructure itself has held up. Pueblo Nuevo is perhaps one of the top three stadiums in the country nowadays, but it still needs some TLC. It helps a lot that Tachirenses are mad about fútbol which definitely gives them some edge in looking after the joint over other more paracaidista venues (I’m looking at you, Maturín).
- CTE Cachamay, Puerto Ordaz, Bolívar: The stadium itself isn’t that out of shape, but it fell way short of expectations. The CTE in the name stands for “Centro Total de Entretenimiento”, a.k.a., plenty of more things other than football. This was a project that was supposed to turn Cachamay into a destination. That part of the project never came to fruition, sadly. Having said that, the sporting facilities aren’t too bad at all. Seats could be replaced, bathrooms deeply scrubbed and maybe newer plumbing, but it really isn’t that run down. One of the reasons for this is that it’s one of the few sporting venues managed by a foundation instead of a public body.
- Estadio Metropolitano de Mérida, Mérida: Mérida’s Metropolitano is regarded as the best football stadium in the country, period. The pitch is in good shape, the stands clean and the facilities in pretty good condition. Proper management has kept this place shining, even being a popular school field trip destination for merideño kids. Out of all nine Copa América venues, this is the only one that is in as good shape as it was almost a decade ago. Not coincidently, this venue too is managed by a foundation not directly attached to the city or the state.
It’s been less than a decade, and of all nine venues, only one can be considered in good shape. Yes, the country has more urgent things to focus on, but how isn’t the collapse of expensive, brand new infrastructure a matter for concern? This is as clear an image as one can find on the how and why the country is in the shape it’s in.
This has far more to do with neglect, corruption and what happens when mediocrity takes over than it does with sports.