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Stay of execution for King Baudouin Stadium

© Uccio “Uccio2” D'Ago/Wikimedia
© Uccio “Uccio2” D'Ago/Wikimedia

The promised demolition of the King Baudouin Stadium in Brussels will not now take place as planned, after an agreement was reached by the Belgian football union and the organisers of the Memorial Van Damme athletics meeting. The plan had been to move the home of the Red Devils national football side to a brand new stadium nearby on Parking C of the Heysel complex. The stadium would also be used by Anderlecht, while the King Baudouin stadium – previously called Heysel until the tragic events of May 1985, when 39 people were killed in a crush and 600 injured – would be demolished to help make way for the Neo shopping and conference centre.

The problems with that plan were many: the new stadium would not have an athletics track, leaving the Memorial Van Damme homeless; Anderlecht blew hot and cold on the plan before withdrawing; the promise not to spend any public money on the project seemed an empty one before a single stone was laid; and Flanders, specifically the commune of Grimbergen where the new stadium would rise, raised objections on a variety of grounds, including mobility and a public right of way.

Now, as that plan appears moribund, the two sporting authorities involved have found another solution, and one which was raised from the very start: renovate the existing stadium, keeping the athletics track.

Peter Bossaert, CEO of the football union, also lifted the cover on yet another new name: “We are living at a unique moment in the history of our sport,” he said. “This unique generation deserves a modern sports temple: the Golden Generation Arena.”

The existing stadium will be totally renovated, he said, with the concerns of football and athletics being taken equally into account. The current capacity of 47,000 in its football configuration will be brought down to 40,000 to help solve the problem of mobility. The renovation should cost the public purse 150-200 million euros, and be completed by 2022.

“The footballers, the athletes and the supporters want this,” said Bob Verbeeck, CEO of Golazo, organisers of the Memorial. “UEFA and the IAAF [international athletics federation] support us, as do all of the Belgian political parties.”

And Bossaert concluded, “We wanted to show that it is still possible to achieve major projects in Belgium,” he said. “We must not wait. This generation will not be young forever, and would wish still to be able to write history in the Golden Generation Arena.”

Eden Hazard, captain of the Red Devils, confirmed: “I hope the renovation goes quickly,” he told La Libre. “I’m already 28, and I don’t intend to play until I’m 40.”

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times