January 30, 2018 / 7:10 PM / a year ago

Brussels stadium dream killed off in border skirmish

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Belgium’s high-flying soccer team’s hopes of a grand new stadium in Brussels were dashed on Tuesday when local officials just outside the capital’s boundary denied planning permission.

Plans to build the 60,000-seat “Eurostade” close to the old Heysel ground on a car park serving what is now known as the King Baudouin Stadium had already hit trouble, costing the Red Devils the chance to play at home in Euro 2020.

But the final blow in a saga that has raged across the regional frontier, pitting the largely French-speaking capital against its Dutch-speaking neighbours in Flanders, was struck by Flemish Environment Minister Joke Schauvliege on Tuesday.

The project was too big, she said, and concerns about traffic and accessibility had not been addressed at the site, just a few hundred metres from the existing 45,000 capacity stadium but, crucially, just beyond Brussels city limits.

Recalling how building delays already dented the Euro 2020 hopes of fans of a national side that goes in to the World Cup in Russia ranked fifth in FIFA’s rankings, Belgian FA secretary general Koen De Brabander denounced the decision as “a new blow to the reputation of our soccer and our country as a whole”.

The King Baudouin Stadium was rebuilt and renamed in the 1990s after the Heysel ground, built in 1930, became a theatre of disaster when 39 people were crushed to death at the 1985 European Cup Final between Liverpool and Juventus.

Belgian fans had hoped to be able to cheer their team in Euro 2020 but the delay in construction led to UEFA moving the four games from the Eurostade to Wembley, as part of a unique 60th anniversary tournament to be hosted by 12 soccer nations.

Sparring between Belgium’s French- and Dutch-speaking halves is part of national life, especially around Brussels, which effectively straddles the frontier. Traditionally though, soccer and the national Red Devils, who currently boast a handful of English Premier League stars, have drawn the country together.

Editing by Alastair Macdonald and Matthew Mpoke Bigg

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