The King Abdullah Football Stadium, "the new national stadium of Saudi Arabia" and home to Jeddah's two Premier League clubs, Al-Ittihad FC and Al-Ahli SC, was officially opened on Thursday, according to Mark Baber of INSIDE WORLD FOOTBALL. The 60,000-seat stadium is part of the King Abdullah Sports City development, and "has taken 14 months to construct." The project was designed by global architects Arup Associates, managed by Aramco and built by Belgium contractor BESIX, along with local firm Al Muhaidib Contracting. The stadium was "built to FIFA requirements, and includes a 5-star quality premium lounge, boxes and VVIP facilities; amenities for visiting top international athletes and press facilities." While the stadium has "at least 308 seats" for special needs patrons, including separate toilets and elevators, "hopes the stadium's opening might provide a break-through in allowing Saudi female spectators are yet to materialise" (INSIDE WORLD FOOTBALL, 5/1). In Jeddah, Khaled Al-Ghamdi wrote Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz "inaugurated Thursday evening the King Abdullah Sports City" and attended the final between Al-Ahli of Jeddah and Al-Shabab of Riyadh for 2014 Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Football Cup (SAUDI GAZETTE, 5/1). In Dubai, Al Arabiya wrote the facility, "dubbed the Jewel," cost around $507M. During Thursday's opening ceremony, a boy holding "an illuminated, football-shape orb was lifted by a wire high into the air onto a platform," where he passed the orb to King Abdullah, "who thanks the boy and delivers a short speech -- a rarity for the Saudi ruler, who seldom speaks in public." King Abdullah said, “I thank you for this invitation to inaugurate Sports City for the dear people of Saudi Arabia and its sons. You deserve more and more" (AL ARABIYA, 5/2).
Australian Football League side Carlton is in negotiations with the AFL about making the Melbourne Cricket Ground its main home ground for '15 and beyond, "with the club board having decided that it wants to play as many as eight of its 11 home games at the bigger stadium," according to Jake Niall of THE AGE. Carlton, "which reluctantly signed on to play six home games at Etihad Stadium in 2004, is in the last year of that 10-year deal and will need to have a new arrangement bedded down soon, as clubs begin submitting their fixturing requests." Carlton CEO Greg Swann confirmed that "the club wants seven or eight games at the MCG, and the remainder at Etihad Stadium." Carlton has long been on record that it would prefer to play more games at the MCG, though it has never pushed to play all of them at the larger stadium; while it would "prefer an 8-3 MCG-Etihad split, seven games at the 'G and four at Etihad appears a better chance to win AFL backing" (THE AGE, 5/1). In Melbourne, Jon Ralph wrote Melbourne Cricket Club CEO Stephen Gough said that food and drink prices at the MCG "will not drop any time soon." Gough met with new AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan recently "to discuss MCG prices," where hot chips cost A$5.60 ($5.20) and a mid-strength beer A$7.10. Gough said that "it was impossible to simply drop prices without increasing other costs for fans," as the MCC attempts to pay off a A$270M redevelopment debt. The league and clubs take the lion’s share of revenue from ticket sales, "with the 100,000-seat stadium depending on food and beverage costs for profitability." Gough said, “Someone can say it costs two bucks a kilo for potatoes, but there’s a lot more to it than that. Each decision has a cascading effect the economics of the code" (HERALD SUN, 5/1). THE AGE reported Brisbane "has dismissed claims it plans to play some home AFL matches at a new venue south of the city." A newspaper report on Monday claimed Lions Chair Bob Sharpless "was aiming to develop a stadium at the Lions' proposed training and administration venue in Springfield." Sharpless said that "he had no plans to take games away from the Gabba and that his comments had been misinterpreted" (THE AGE, 4/30).
Naming rights for the 49,000-seat Miyagi Stadium, the unloved secondary venue for J.League side Vegalta Sendai home games, have been bought by the local branch of the JA agricultural cooperative. The deal sees the stadium renamed the Hitomebore Stadium Miyagi until '17, for 5M yen ($50,000) in annual fees. Hitomebore is a popular local variety of rice; the word can also mean "love at first sight," though local fans have little affection for the stadium. In addition to poor transport links, Vegalta Sendai's record in matches at the stadium, which is a 30-minute drive from the city, has been so poor that fans call it jinxed. Japan's run in the 2002 FIFA World Cup ending there with a 1-0 defeat to Turkey didn't help its image.
OLYMPIC VENUE: Vegalta hasn't scheduled any J.League home games there for the current season, preferring to use the 20,000-capacity Yurtec Stadium in Sendai City. However, the stadium has been selected as a football venue for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and hosts big concerts. A spokesperson for the local JA branch told SBD Global, "It's not big money, and it gives us a chance to promote Hitomebore rice outside the local area, particularly with the Tokyo Olympics coming up. And a lot of other events are scheduled for there in the meantime."
Gavin Blair is a writer in Tokyo.