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White elephants

By SKIP BANDELE [email protected]

A pre-World Cup friendly international, the top placement matches on March 3 of the women’s football ‘Mundialito’ and the March 20 Portuguese League Cup final (the teams involved will emerge after the Sporting-Benfica and Porto-Academica semis) are the sporting highlights, apart from May’s WRC Rally of Portugal, awaiting the Algarve’s purpose-built Euro2004 stadium, which hosted three group matches and one quarter-final during the tournament.

The remainder of the year the 30,305 seats in the 46 million euro structure between Loule and Faro remain mostly empty while its inter-municipal administrators bear the crippling annual maintenance costs in excess of 1.8 million euros.

Together with interest repayments, this financial burden has caused the euphoria generated by the European Championships six years ago to give way to despair.

Today, the Parque das Cidades management company is looking to dismiss most of its staff as debts of around three million euros force it to work with the absolute minimum manpower necessary for the venue’s upkeep.

Other than the ‘big four’, namely Benfica’s Stadium of Light, Porto’s Dragon, Braga’s AXA Arena and Sporting’s Alvalade, the situation at the remaining five former Euro2004 sites is not much different to that in the Algarve.

For example, at now second tier Beira-Mar, barely 2,000 paying fans come through the turnstiles every fortnight, prompting the city of Aveiro to consider demolition, while Boavista’s rapid descent into provincial ignominy will see the one-time champions teetering near the abyss for a long time to come.

Meanwhile, first division status has been maintained and costs kept relatively low in Guimarães and Coimbra, softening the situation to a degree, but Leiria’s municipal financial situation is desperate – reconstruction costs which saw the original estimate of 19.5 million spiral to 90 million euros have left the city with no other option than to seek a private buyer.

Back in the Algarve, the stadium continues to stand empty – yet another sporting venue recently completed at much greater cost appears to flourish.

The privately-funded Algarve Motor Park is benefitting from its multi-functionality, diversity and innovative management.

The top class racing facilities have been complemented by the appropriate infrastructure as well as non-motor sport investment ensuring broad appeal demonstrating that ‘white elephants’ can be avoided.

Unfortunately such forethought and planning has been sadly neglected by those responsible for the situation in Faro-Loule, something which will be almost impossible to put right in the current economic climate.