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Stadium – Mohamed V like a phoenix

To the great relief of fans, after a long interruption due to renovation work (which began in June 2006), the Mohamed V sports complex in Casablanca was finally reopened for competitive matches at the end of March 2007. First up was a match between local club Wydad Casablanca and Maghreb Fez. The months of waiting have been put to the best possible use by its owners, the municipal council of Casablanca, who have carried out a programme of refurbishment work at a cost of USD 1.2 million. The emblematic stadium in Morocco’s financial capital, which regularly hosts national team matches and is home to two of the country’s biggest clubs (Raja and Wydad Casablanca) has been transformed.
The supporters, players and spectators present at the opening match marvelled at the metamorphosis that had taken place, beginning with the pitch, where the impractical natural turf has been replaced with a semi-artificial surface as smooth as a billiard table and which is able to resist both hot summers and harsh winters. To maintain the pitch in optimum condition, a new automatic drainage and watering system has been tested which enables the amount of water to be better regulated, thus saving money.
At the players’ request, spectator comfort has been enhanced and the 64 sanitary blocks provided for the public (with four to eight toilets in each) have been completely renovated.
The athletics track has not been left behind either and has obtained category 2 (international meetings) status. To cover events from inside the stadium, journalists are now provided with a 650m2 state-of-the-art media centre and a completely rebuilt media tribune. These facilities are further complemented by a communications area consisting of a conference room and a meeting room.
Even the thorny issue of security seems to be close to a solution. To cope with major sporting events in the biggest city in Morocco and avoid the problems of the past (a death caused the stadium to be closed in May 2006), the city’s authorities have installed eight surveillance cameras and have introduced external security measures. This enables them to better police the approaches and interior of the stadium and the 17 entrances to the stands.
The Mohamed V stadium has been the subject of continual renovation since it first came into existence. Originally named the Marcel Cerdan stadium, it was inaugurated on 6 March 1955 with a capacity of 25,000. One year later, after Morocco achieved independence, it was renamed Stade d’Honneur. At the end of the 1970s Morocco was awarded the organisation of the 1983 Mediterranean Games, which prompted the national authorities to carry out major development work on the stadium, increasing its capacity to 80,000 and transforming it into the country’s largest sporting venue. The construction of a 12,000-capacity multi-purpose arena and ancovered Olympic swimming pool also gave the facilities the air of a full-scale sports complex. The enlargement of the stadium was then followed by the installation of an electronic scoreboard and in 1981 it was given its definitive name, Mohamed V. Two decades later, in 2000, the stadium was renovated for a second time. The country’s bid for the 2006 FIFA World Cup™’ led to the stadium’s resizing to meet FIFA standards and the capacity was reduced to 48,000 all seated, of which half was covered. The seats were than painted in the colours of the Moroccan flag: green (for the Raja supporters) and red (for the Wydad supporters).
Located right in the centre of Casablanca in the Maarif district, the Mohamed V sports complex is only 35 kilometres from the international airport and five kilometres from the railway station. Despite the local population’s attachment to this iconic venue which hosted the likes of Pele, Beckenbauer, Boca Juniors and Real Madrid in the 1970s, its future is hanging by a thread. A debate is currently raging as to the need to preserve it and it was even rumoured that the city’s councillors had floated the idea of transforming the site into a vast real estate project. In the end, the stadium’s director, Farid Mir, announced in October 2006 that it would be preserved as a piece of local heritage.
However, the future of the Mohamed V sports complex also poses an even bigger question, that of improving the country’s sports infrastructure to the required standard. The Moroccan authorities have already unsuccessfully bid to host the FIFA World Cup™ on four occasions, so is the recent renovation of the Mohamed V stadium a sign of another attempt to fulfil Moroccos cherished ambition of organising a global sports event?