Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


estadio-nacional

Estadio Nacional. (PHOTO: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

How a Chinese-Funded Costa Rican Soccer Stadium Explains the World

• September 04, 2013 • 6:00 AM

Estadio Nacional. (PHOTO: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

And how it affects the United States’ chances of qualifying for the World Cup before the weekend.

SAN JOSE, COSTA RICA — On Friday, the United States men’s national soccer team plays Costa Rica in San Jose. The Americans have never won in the Central American country during World Cup qualifying, posting an 0-7-1 record and getting outscored 8-1 over the last three matches. But head coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s squad has perhaps its best shot ever at getting three points.

Why? Because the match will not be played in Estadio Ricardo Saprissa, the loud, imposing venue nicknamed “the Monster’s Cave” that featured fans on top of the action and a pockmarked artificial turf made for tearing ACLs.

Instead, the resplendent Estadio Nacional plays host. The 35,000-seat stadium, which boasts lovely sight-lines for fans, a lovely track surrounding the field that dampens the noise emitted by the happy supporters, and a lovely high-tech turf that prizes skill over cynical soccer, opened in 2011. It cost $105 million, a bill footed by the Chinese.

Wait, what?

The People’s Republic gave Estadio Nacional as a gift as part of an agreement between Hu Jintao and then-president Oscar Arias. Except gifts are never just gifts in the world of international relations.

From an excellent post in the excellent A Football Ramble:

First, Arias agreed that Chinese workers could build the stadium, despite the fact that Costa Rica was stricken with unemployment from the global economic crisis. He allowed the Chinese company in charge of the project, AFEC, to entirely bypass Costa Rica’s labor laws, which are notoriously strict. Though Costa Rica is a proud advocate of human rights, Chinese employees of AFEC worked inhumane hours right under the nose of the Costa Rican democracy. There was even one casualty on the project, as 37-year-old Liu Hong Bin was hit by a construction vehicle in November 2010. Putting human rights aside, the stadium barely stimulated Costa Rica’s economy, as even most of the materials used were shipped over from China.

Additionally, Costa Rica canceled its diplomatic dealings with Taiwan. Additionally additionally, two weeks after the official opening, Costa Rica and China signed a free trade agreement, similar to ones in Chile, New Zealand, and Pakistan. (Background on that strategy here.)

So Costa Rica got a shiny new toy and China got itself a bit of influence. What’s wrong? After all, China isn’t the only nation to buy influence through soccer. Qatar performed similar stadium building-feats in Guatemala and other countries. Everyone wins, right?

Well, no. Former Culture Minister Guido Sáenz called the new stadium a crime and said that he thinks it “will lead to the eventual ruin of the park [where the stadium sits].” Others are upset, too.

But perhaps the biggest loss for everyone involved was the loss of home-field advantage. The Costa Rican Soccer Federations, angered that the U.S. made them play in the snow back in March, wanted the match in Saprissa.

Eduardo Li, president of the Costa Rican Soccer Federation, had some particularly strong rhetoric: “The voice of the people is the voice of God, and if people want us to play there, we will play in the Saprissa against the United States.”

But they had to abandon that plan when it became clear that FIFA wouldn’t approve of a match held in the rundown palace of futbol. See, there’s this beautiful new sterile stadium just down the road, and it’s open for business.

Klinsmann, for one, feels OK with how it all went down. “We have a lot of respect for Costa Rica and it’s important that the players always respect their opponent and know what to expect. They can expect a very intense game, a high energy game, but I think we have the quality and the mindset to be confident enough to go there for three points. This is what we’re trying to build…. Hopefully we can take that mindset down to San Jose and win there for the first time ever in World Cup Qualifying.”

Thanks to the Chinese, that might actually happen.

Noah Davis
Noah Davis is a writer living in Brooklyn. Follow him on Twitter @noahedavis.

More From Noah Davis

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts


October 21 • 8:00 AM

Education Policy Is Stuck in the Manufacturing Age

Refining our policies and teaching social and emotional skills will help us to generate sustained prosperity.


October 21 • 7:13 AM

That Cigarette Would Make a Great Water Filter

Clean out the ashtray, add some aluminum oxide, and you’ve (almost) got yourself a low-cost way to remove arsenic from drinking water.


October 21 • 6:00 AM

Fruits and Vegetables Are About to Enter a Flavor Renaissance

Chefs are teaming up with plant breeders to revitalize bland produce with robust flavors and exotic beauty—qualities long neglected by industrial agriculture.


October 21 • 4:00 AM

She’s Cheating on Him, You Can Tell Just by Watching Them

New research suggests telltale signs of infidelity emerge even in a three- to five-minute video.


October 21 • 2:00 AM

Cheating Demographic Doom: Pittsburgh Exceptionalism and Japan’s Surprising Economic Resilience

Don’t judge a metro or a nation-state by its population numbers.


October 20 • 4:00 PM

The Bird Hat Craze That Sparked a Preservation Movement

How a fashion statement at the turn of the 19th century led to the creation of the first Audubon societies.


October 20 • 2:00 PM

The Risk of Getting Killed by the Police If You Are White, and If You Are Black

An analysis of killings by police shows outsize risk for young black males.


October 20 • 12:00 PM

Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they’re motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.


October 20 • 11:00 AM

My Dog Comes First: The Importance of Pets to Homeless Youth

Dogs and cats have both advantages and disadvantages for street-involved youth.


October 20 • 10:00 AM

Homophobia Is Not a Thing of the Past

Despite growing support for LGBT rights and recent decisions from the Supreme Court regarding the legality of same-sex marriage, the battle for acceptance has not yet been decided.


October 20 • 8:00 AM

Big Boobs Matter Most

Medical mnemonics are often scandalous and sexist, but they help the student to both remember important facts and cope with challenging new experiences.


October 20 • 6:00 AM

When Disease Becomes Political: The Likely Electoral Fallout From Ebola

Will voters blame President Obama—and punish Democrats in the upcoming mid-term elections—for a climate of fear?


October 20 • 4:00 AM

Coming Soon: The Anatomy of Ignorance


October 17 • 4:00 PM

What All Military Families Need to Know About High-Cost Lenders

Lessons from over a year on the beat.


October 17 • 2:00 PM

The Majority of Languages Do Not Have Gendered Pronouns

A world without “he.” Or “she.”


October 17 • 11:01 AM

How to Water a Farm in Sandy Ground

Physicists investigate how to grow food more efficiently in fine-grained soil.


October 17 • 10:00 AM

Can Science Fiction Spur Science Innovation?

Without proper funding, the answer might not even matter.


October 17 • 8:00 AM

Seattle, the Incredible Shrinking City

Seattle is leading the way in the micro-housing movement as an affordable alternative to high-cost city living.


October 17 • 6:00 AM

‘Voodoo Death’ and How the Mind Harms the Body

Can an intense belief that you’re about to die actually kill you? Researchers are learning more about “voodoo death” and how it isn’t limited to superstitious, foreign cultures.


October 17 • 4:00 AM

That Arts Degree Is Paying Off

A survey of people who have earned degrees in the arts find they are doing relatively well, although their education didn’t provide much guidance on managing a career.


October 16 • 4:00 PM

How (Some) Economists Are Like Doomsday Cult Members

Cognitive dissonance and clinging to paradigms even in the face of accumulated anomalous facts.


October 16 • 2:00 PM

The Latest—and Most Mysterious—Player in the Nasty Battle Over Net Neutrality

As the FCC considers how to regulate Internet providers, the telecom industry’s stealth campaign for hearts and minds encompasses everything from art installations to LOLcats.


October 16 • 12:00 PM

How Many Ads Is Too Many Ads?

The conundrum of online video advertising.


October 16 • 11:00 AM

Unlocking Consciousness

A study of vegetative patients closes in on the nature of consciousness.


Follow us


That Cigarette Would Make a Great Water Filter

Clean out the ashtray, add some aluminum oxide, and you've (almost) got yourself a low-cost way to remove arsenic from drinking water.

Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they're motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.

How to Water a Farm in Sandy Ground

Physicists investigate how to grow food more efficiently in fine-grained soil.

Unlocking Consciousness

A study of vegetative patients closes in on the nature of consciousness.

Advice for Emergency Alert Systems: Don’t Cry Wolf

A survey finds college students don't always take alerts seriously.

The Big One

One company, Amazon, controls 67 percent of the e-book market in the United States—down from 90 percent five years ago. September/October 2014 new-big-one-5

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.