Heysel not good enough

BRUSSELS - Heysel Stadium in Brussels was spared after tragedy in 1985 but Belgium's dream of co-hosting the soccer World Cup with the Dutch in 2018 means it is now marked for destruction.

The name Heysel evokes memories of the 39 mostly Italians killed when a wall collapsed after Liverpool fans charged Juventus supporters before the 1985 European Cup Final.

Belgium spent around R350 million on a total overhaul in the ensuing decade in the build-up to Euro2000 when the ground, renamed after former King Baudouin, hosted several matches, including a semifinal.

However, the stadium, venue of seven European club competition finals, is no longer up to scratch.

European soccer body Uefa says it doesn't meet the standards of an elite venue, meaning it cannot host a Champions League final.

"We made a mistake. It was not only down to the political decision-makers but the sporting associations as well. It's only 2007 and the stadium cannot be used.

"It's crazy," said Alain Courtois, who leads the Belgian Football Association's bid to host the 2018 World Cup.

"It means Belgium isn't in a position to organise a big international event. It means we have to build now - and not just inBrussels."

A second facelift for Heysel, which was inaugurated in 1930, remains a possibility but the city of Brussels believes it would be no cheaper than building afresh.

Anderlecht, a western district of Brussels and home to Belgium's most successful club, could squeeze in a new stadium.

However, Charles Picque, premier of the Brussels region, made it clear in an address last month that a disused railway yard about 4km northeast of the city centre was the favoured site.

Together with upgraded rail connections and a motorway extension, the construction bill could reach about R10 billion and is part of a bold revamp that Europe's unofficial capital city plans in the years ahead.

The 60000 to 70000-seater stadium, set to cost up to about R250 billion may not be ready until 2013 to 2015, but the plans are already advancing.

The state body overseeing the disused railway yard has received around 20 proposals for a commercial development, including a stadium.

The private sector is expected to foot at least 80 percent of the bill and Anderlecht will likely relocate from their limited, 28000-capacity home.

Upgrades elsewhere in Belgium could be funded exclusively by the private sector.

The Benelux countries of Belgium and the Netherlands, along with Luxembourg, which would host a Fifa congress but no matches, said last month they planned to make a joint bid for the 2018 World Cup.

They face strong competition from England and other possible bidders - Japan, Australia, China, the United States, Russia and Spain. - Reuters