What to do with a football stadium and no football team? Play a different football
Jonathan Raymond | November 25, 2013
YASUYOSHI CHIBA STF
Hosting a World Cup is no easy shakes. The infrastructure build-up is difficult, and expensive. The logistics are troublesome. The justification for all of it is sometimes hard to make.
Even under the best of circumstances, it's hard to please everyone.
But countries still bid, mostly for the recognition and prestige that comes with hosting the globe's most anticipated sporting event.
One problem that has nothing to do with actually putting on the World Cup show, though, is figuring out what to do with all that stuff you built once the circus leaves town. Olympic cities like Shanghai (whose Bird's Nest stadium is mostly an unused tourist attraction now) and London (who are redeveloping their Olympic Stadium to host West Ham United and a smattering of other events) have had mixed success in repurposing their venues.
South Africa, meanwhile, has struggled to find much use for the five stadiums they constructed for the 2010 World Cup.
At least one of Brazil's World Cup stadiums already has a planned purpose for the future, though - they're going to play football in it. American football.
The city of Cuiaba, population 500,000, doesn't have a football club in Brazil's top flight or the second division, but they do have Cuiaba Arsenal, interestingly named for a gridiron side.
The club in the capital of Mato Grosso state would play in the stadium – Arena Pantanal – that can fill 40,000, even though just 4,000 saw the Brazilian national American football league final in 2012, won by Cuiaba.
Still, if there's nothing else to do with it...
"Just give us a chance and we'll fill the Arena," the club's coach, Brian Guzman, told Agence France-Presse.
So after the Arena's four matches have finished and the World Cup prepares to go to Russia in 2018, the people of Cuiaba say they will embrace futbol Americano.
"There is no doubt that in the short term we are going to fill this stadium and we shall see a great game of American football," a spokesman told AFP.
As the AFP notes, financial considerations will have to take a back seat, as American football is far, far, far from being a real moneymaking enterprise in football-crazy Brazil as of yet.
The agency continues with the rest of the story:
"Whereas football stars here are idolised millionaires, those practising the American variant do it 'for the love of the sport', said Hatilla Fogo, an offense star turn for Cuiaba.
'We do not expect to become millionaires but next year, who knows, we could make a bit of cash,' said Fogo as he prepared for a training session in temperatures hitting 40ş Celsius (104 Fahrenheit).
His wife, Jordana, tags along to training as well as matches -- home and away.
'If he has to stay behind and paint the lines in the early hours, I stay too,' she laughs.
Not getting paid means it is a labour of love.
'When you don't get paid, it's fundamental to be passionate about it as you make a lot of physical and financial sacrifices,' says Guzmán, one of few players in the squad who does draw a salary.
Hatilla, for example, works in an X-ray centre and sometimes has to skip training owing to night shifts at work.
Skipper Igor Mota is a personal trainer at a gym.
Chairman Orlando Ferreira -- who commentates on matches at the stadium -- says he'd like to see the sport become professional in Brazil.
The key, he says, is to get the media behind them.
'Unless we turn Brazilian American football into a product for TV, then we won't bring in the cash and won't be able to draw in big sponsors,' he said.
Although the sporting dream of most Brazilian youngsters is to play football in Europe, Arsenal's players have a burning desire to ply their trade in the United States.
Arsenal have already exported eight players – mostly to US college teams. Mota spent a year playing in a small US league but having turned 30, rules out becoming a pro.
'Maybe a coach,' he mused.
As yet, few Brazilians know much about or understand the sport.
Yet the club are willing to help newcomers learn the ropes.
'If we identify a good athlete we are confident we can turn him into a good American footballer,' said coach Guzmán, who ruled out heading abroad himself.
Fogo's six-year-old son, Joao, who follows his father on to the pitch in the role of mascot, has already told his parents, according to his mother Jordana, that once he turns 15 he will head Stateside – to play American football."