Kuwait’s ghost stadium prepares to breathe new life: CNN


Kuwait’s ghost stadium

Kuwait’s Jaber Al Ahmad International Stadium, which has only ever hosted one senior level match (2010 Asian Federation Cup final) since its opening in 2007, has been a ‘little more than a vacant white elephant’. The 60,000 palatial replica of Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium in London, however, is all set for a new beginning by the year-end, according to a June 9, 2015 CNN report.

The curious lack of activity has turned the mammoth steel structure into a symbol of bureaucracy and a penchant for silence on hot topics in the region. Whispers on the culpability of the stadium’s closure have been plentiful (mainly to do with structural problems), while definitive public statements have been scarce, says the CNN report.

“It’s a sad story; it’s a work of art,” Louay Al-Kharafi, a board member of Kharafi Group, the industrial conglomerate tasked with building the stadium, told CNN.

Kharafi Group won the bid to build the stadium back in 2004 for a relatively paltry $189 million (by contrast, Emirates Stadium in London was completed in 2006 for $650 million). The company operates in over 25 countries and had a hand in the build out of South Africa’s 2010 World Cup.

“Nothing structural is wrong with the stadium,” said Al-Kharafi, while remaining adamant that no construction errors were committed by his team, nor had they ever faced any lawsuits over the construction of the stadium levied by the government. In fact, he said, the stadium has been ready to go all along.

“It’s simple; if there is a fault in the structure, just ask the contractor to fix it,” he added. “No one asked.”
Yet there has been open talk in Kuwait since November 6, 2010 when 58,604 people filled the grounds to watch the final of the 2010 Asian Federation Cup (won by Syrian club Al-Ittihad – still the only officially sanctioned match ever played on the pitch) that a few of the stadium’s support columns had been cracking.

In January 2015, CNN visited Jaber Al Ahmad Stadium and had a tour of its facilities.

“Indeed, on that brisk winter day, everything in the stadium – from the perfectly manicured natural grass, to the fine sand on the athletics long jump box, to the clear water in the hydro-therapy pool, and the sparkling blue carpeting in the VIP box – looked immaculate,” the CNN report said.

“While touring the complex, two cracks underneath the pedestrian walkway that circles the stadium were pointed out. It was clear that the columns had been worked on, perhaps to test their strength, and subsequently fortified.

Whether those columns were at fault for the stadium’s closure – or whether something else was to blame – was entirely unclear, however,” it said.

“We’ve examined those cracks,” Al-Kharafi told CNN. “We broke down the cracks (to check) the steel and it’s sound and safe.” Al-Kharafi noted that structural integrity tests were carried out with the cooperation of government agencies, and that they had all passed. CNN was not able to verify the test results.

Various other government agencies, including the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research (KISR), launched their independent investigation following repeated enquiries over the years by Kuwait’s democratically assembled parliament.

KISR’s report – which was never released publicly – affirmed that cracks existed in a number of support beams, according to an October, 2013 article in the state-run Kuwait News Agency quoting the man in charge of running the stadium, Faisal Al-Jazzaf, head of the country’s Public Authority for Youth and Sports.

Progress, however, does appear to be imminent – with a target opening at the end of the year, according to Kuwait’s Minister of Information Sheikh Salman Al-Sabah, the CNN report said.

Al-Sabah’s recent parliamentary announcement preceded a tweet from Kuwait’s football association that it would host the 2016 Gulf Cup of Nations, which kicks off in December – an opportunity seized when slated host Iraq pulled out in February.

Indeed, works are underway, according to Khalid Bonashi, the stadium’s security chief, who spoke to CNN by phone earlier this month. “Yes, they are working on the stadium and making preparations,” he was quoted by the CNN as saying. Bonashi added that Kuwait’s Combined Group – a rival construction company to Kharafi Group – is facilitating the repairs. “The mood is good; everything that is demanded, they are working on it,” he said.

Bonashi added that the onus of the project had been transferred to Kuwait’s Amiri Diwan, or the office of the royal court, often a last resort to cut through red tape by circumventing routine parliamentary questioning.

“For Jaber Al-Ahmad International Stadium, however, the activity trajectory can only point upwards,” the CNN report said. “Despite all the red tape and ambiguity over the past nine years, the white elephant in the sand may well have an opportunity to raise its head at the Gulf Cup of Nations in December,” it concludes.

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