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Sports Talk: Paradigm of pride; icon gets a facelift

Renovation of Cairo Stadium on the block CAIRO: Cairo Stadium, one of Egypt’s grandest symbols of independence, will ironically soon fall into foreign hands. Like Marlon Brando before his death, the stadium is gray, huge and broke. We are told it will not be sold to the highest bidder but will instead go under the …


Renovation of Cairo Stadium on the block

CAIRO: Cairo Stadium, one of Egypt’s grandest symbols of independence, will ironically soon fall into foreign hands. Like Marlon Brando before his death, the stadium is gray, huge and broke.

We are told it will not be sold to the highest bidder but will instead go under the hammer by way of a tender that has already attracted 10 foreign companies, said to be of repute, vying to take charge of the stadium.

The winning firm will have the formidable task of turning the stadium from a LE 3 million a year loser to a moneymaker, with hopes of reaching LE 40 million a year in profit.

Marketing should not pose a serious problem. Cairo Stadium is the Wembley of Africa, as famous on the continent as the San Siro in Milan, the Santiago Bernabeu of Madrid and Pasadena’s Rose Bowl.

Located in Nasr City and originally called Nasser Stadium, it was a feel-good endeavor launched at a time Egyptians were proud of their country and of themselves.

President Gamal Abdel-Nasser inaugurated it in 1960 on the eighth anniversary of the military coup he and several young army officers staged to overthrow King Farouk and the monarchial system.

Werner March, the German architect, designed Cairo Stadium on roughly the same lines as that of the Berlin Stadium used for the 1936 Olympics.

It cost LE 1.5 million to build, but that was when a pound was a pound. (At the time, LE 1 equaled $2.50. No, this is not a typo.) In today’s money, it would have cost LE 3 billion.

At the time, the 120,000-seat stadium was one of the biggest in the world, only ranked below the gargantuan 183,000-seat Maracana in Rio de Janeiro and Glasgow’s Hampden Park, seating 140,000.

Soccer legends have graced its grass. Pele came twice, with Brazil and in 1973 with Santos. Europe’s all-time champions Real Madrid visited in 1961 – on board were Puskas and Di Stefano. Forty years later Real came again, this time with Zidane and Figo.

The Kaiser Franz Beckenbauer and the bomber Gerd Muller; the black panther of Benfica and Portugal, Eusebio; 1966 World Cup heroes Bobby Moore and Geoffrey Hurst; Batistuta and Cafu of AS Roma; Carlos Valderama of Colombia; an England XI led by Peter Shilton; and the world’s current best player Ronaldinho, representing Brazil in the under-17 World Cup – all displayed their magic in Cairo Stadium.

Watching from the stands were luminaries of the age: Saudi Arabia’s King Faisal, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, and the first person to view Earth from space, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin.

The venerable old lady was closed from 2003-2005 for a mammoth makeover costing LE 152 million, in which stone benches were replaced with plastic chairs for every spectator.

Experts from the US, South Korea, Japan and Italy oversaw the renovations, which produced new grass, a state-of-the-art media center, two digital scoreboards and 38 electronic gates. The stadium seating also shrunk to 74,500.

The refurbishing was intended for the African Cup of Nations held earlier this year. During the surprisingly popular championship, Cairo Stadium became the in place to be. The chic crowd of Cairo came, albeit not so much to see the matches as to be seen.

To generate money, ticket prices will definitely increase from the current average of LE 20. Al-Ahli and Zamalek play all their games in Cairo Stadium, renting it for LE 8,000 a game. That figure looks set to rise as well. Other marketing ideas could include hosting rock bands and holding conferences in its adjacent indoor courts, establishing eateries, cinemas and a shopping complex.

It appears Cairo Stadium will never look the same.

Topics: Visa

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