The elegant, sweeping curves of Natal's Arena das Dunas played host last June to the United States' historic – and nail-biting – first round World Cup 2-1 win over Ghana. Less than a year later, this architecturally-stunning $130 million stadium now hosts very different type of events from the top-flight soccer of last summer, namely birthday parties and weddings.
Without a professional soccer team in the northeastern Brazilian city, the Arena das Dunas – along with a host of the other 12 World Cup stadiums built or revamped for a total of $3.4 billion – has become what many critics of the soccer tournament predicted: a white elephant that is too costly for the state to maintain and one that serves little purpose now that the global soccer tournament has left the South American nation.
"The ones that seem to not be abandoned, but not used are the ones we knew about beforehand," Paulo Sotero, the director of the Brazil Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars told Fox News Latino. "These are the ones that were predicted to be problems for the simple reason that you don't have enough soccer in these states to justify having a stadium."
The company that owns the Arena das Dunas, OAS, has been forced to put the stadium up for sale after it was implicated in a massive corruption scandal centered around the state-controlled oil company Petrobras and involving the country's biggest engineering and construction firms.
Along with Natal, the three other stadiums in these non-soccer cities are also struggling to make ends meet in post-World Cup Brazil.
Best pix of the week
The Changing Face Of Rio’s Vidigal Favela
World Cup Host City Manaus Offers A Taste Of The Exotic Amazon To Travelers
The U.S. has a history in World Cup city of Natal
Brazil faces mounting problems as World Cup looms
The Brazuca ball - the center of attention at the World Cup
Brazil's World Cup is the most expensive ever
World Cup, soccer means big business
Mexican Amputees Prepare For Their Own World Cup
U.S. Goalkeeper Tim Howard Turned In A World Cup Performance For The Ages
For Soccer Dreamers In Brazil, World Cup Is Driving Their Ambition For Fame
The U.S. Played Host To The World Cup, And Everything Went Off Brilliantly
What Does Misery Look Like? How Front Pages Across Americas Depicted Brazilians' World Cup Pain
Top Ten Most Expensive Teams Heading To Brazil's World Cup
World Cup Visitors: Exotic Amazon Animals Abound In Brazil
World Cup Day Started With Protests, Tear Gas In São Paulo
The Estádio Nacional Mané Garrincha in the nation's capital of Brasilia, which cost a whopping $550 million to build, is currently being used as a parking lot for buses, while the gorgeous Arena da Amazonia in the remote city of Manaus costs around $233,000 a month to run and has been put up for sale in the private sector, despite being built mainly with public funding.
"The local league games have very low attendance, and it costs a lot of money to put games on at the arena," Leânderson Lima, a sports reporter in Manaus, told NPR. "So, in Manaus nowadays, local team matches actually take place in two training centers, and not in the World Cup stadium."
These stadiums were built for political reasons as local politicians saw an opportunity for themselves.
- Paulo Sotero, the director of the Brazil Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
Then there is the $215 million Arena Pantanal in the city of Cuiabá, which was closed down earlier this year due to faulty construction. Last month it made headlines when it was revealed that homeless people were squatting in the stadium's unused locker rooms. The stadium was never fully completed.
The stadium's manager said that Cuiabá's city officials are looking for a private company to purchase the field because maintaining the 42,000-plus seat stadium is draining city funds.
Adding insult to injury for resident of Cuiabá, multiple city and state officials are being investigated for the $800 million light railway meant to link the airport to downtown Cuiabá in time for the World Cup, even though only half a mile of the proposed 14-mile track has been built to date.
"These stadiums were built for political reasons as local politicians saw an opportunity for themselves," Sotero said.
Some say that the legacy of the World Cup stadiums is indicative of the country's current situation, which has seen drastic fluctuations in the real (Brazil's currency), corruption allegations leveled against politicians from local mayors up to President Dilma Rousseff and widespread international criticism as the country readies itself for another global sporting event, the 2106 summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Major sporting events in the past have either been boons or bust for the host nations – with Greece hosting the 2004 Olympics being an example of the latter. While the World Cup hasn't not caused Brazil's economy to collapse, it has forced international financial organizations like the International Monetary Fund to warn Brazil that it must pursue austerity measures to restore confidence to a wary public as well as competiveness and growth in the world market.
Finance Minister Joaquim Levy, who took office in January, has begun to push spending cuts and higher taxes in an effort to plug a budget hole following years of costly spending.
"We treat problems that have been growing over the long term as if they're new," Marina Silva, a Brazilian politician and former presidential candidate told Fox News Latino. “It's a moment in which we need to seriously examine what can be done to confront the crises and resolve them for the benefit of everyone by making strategic decisions that reach into every sector."
The World Cup stadiums are such a potent symbol of the overspending and the disastrous legacy of the organization of the tournament that the country's sports minister George Hilton promised during an interview with Reuters that, unlike the soccer tournament, the Olympic Games in Rio will leave a positive legacy.
"Differently from the World Cup, we are leaving a legacy," Hilton said. "We will be constructing training areas all over the country so we're not only building venues for these athletes but also for any beginner who wants to be an athlete.”
But he said the legacy will not only positively impact Rio de Janeiro.
“The way it's going to resonate,” he said, “it will be all over the country."
Follow Andrew O'Reilly on Twitter @aoreilly84.