Special Report: Pan Am

Stadia and Social Structures

Throughout history, stadia have entertained and distracted the public from the plundering of the public purse by ambitious empire builders.

By Michael Borrelli
Published January 27, 2011

Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions - everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses.

-- Juvenal's Satires, circa 100 A.D.

A disaster followed, whether accidental or treacherously contrived by the emperor, is uncertain, as authors have given both accounts, worse, however, and more dreadful than any which have ever happened to this city by the violence of fire.

-- The Annals of Tacitus, 116 A.D.

The Romans, experts at harnessing political power and building structures, left an indelible mark on their Empire, and those that would come after. One can still cross Europe from Spain to Turkey, or Britain to Libya, and see the remains of what was once the world's most powerful consolidating socio-political force.

Republican Rome spent considerable resources in exporting the Roman ideal to the hinterland. Fora and libraries were built in colonies and regional centres, and Roman methods of urban planning were adopted.

But perhaps the most iconic of Roman structures that still stand today are the few remaining stadia located in such far-flung locales as Tunisia and Bulgaria, and epitomized by the massive Coliseum that has survived right in the heart of Rome.

The Amphitheatrum Flavium represents not only the height of Roman ingenuity in architecture and engineering, but also speaks volumes about the social structures that produced it.


Entertainment, Distraction

Stadia in the Roman Empire were as much about population control as they were about entertainment and exalting the feats of athletes and gladiators. Even at the dawn of the 21st Century, these public works still serve the same function, albeit with a significant tweak.

True, the construction of stadia remains primarily the domain of governments, as few private interests have the wealth necessary to build one on their own. But the spectacles have been outsourced to private interests who produce content that drives spectators through the gate, generating private revenue and (perhaps) value for the surrounding area.

Public spectacles like those that lured the Roman rabble serve another valuable purpose. By diverting attention away from their former-Republic's descent into autocracy, and from the largess and greed that accompanied it, Imperial Rome's dictators were able to keep their impoverished and often restive citizens.

Popular legend says Nero played the lyre while Rome burned in 64 A.D.; the crazed Emperor later redeveloping huge swaths of prime land for his villa, Domus Aurea (although Tacitus' tale says Nero was in Antium during the fire).

Less than a decade later, the Emperor Vespasian commissioned a 50,000 seat stadium on a piece of once-densely populated brownfield that Nero seized for his vacation home following the Great Fire.

There, spectators could cheer on the mauling of Christians (who some blamed for the fire), or watch the exploits of their favourite gladiators. Most of all, they could forget that their Empire was being milked dry by its dictators, its greatness diminishing.

Some may have even remarked on the irony of sitting in a structure built with taxes more or less extorted from Roman citizens, but also from massive subsidies plundered from the Empire's vast provincial holdings, yet named after the Caesar that commissioned it (Flavian being Vespasian's family's name).

A Mark on History

Here in Hamilton, our Emperor and rubber-stamp Senate is similarly eager to leave their mark on history. Surprise back-room deals with billionaires and Provincial governors, involving tens of millions of taxpayer dollars (and remember - there is only one taxpayer), are de rigueur as the clock ticks down.

Citizens are arguably more fixated on the stadium drama than they ever would be by anything that might play out on its field.

And who knows, The Pope might even share his tithes. God knows he and his Cardinals are shrewd, and what's a better story than a shiny new taxpayer funded civic stadium built for private use?

For our Emperor, grandiose plans to blow money on a stadium is certainly a comfortable diversion from thinking about our $153M civic infrastructure deficit.

For the Province, a story about building urban spaces is a nice diversion from stories about their ham-fisted attempts to stop developers from gobbling up the last of the green space in the region.

And for the Feds, should they become involved? Well, any diversion will be appreciated in this town. You see, since early November, 900 fellow Hamiltonians have been locked-out by their employer, US Steel, in a dispute over their future livelihoods.

US Steel

You'll remember that US Steel is the same employer who promised The Pope and his favourite Cardinal that it would maintain jobs when it bought Stelco in 2007, but wasted no time in laying off hundreds of workers. Ottawa approved the deal, but threw up their hands when job-losses came, saying they couldn't do anything.

Like their scuttling of Nortel's pensions, they figured no one would care.

This Saturday, citizens and workers from across Ontario will be converging on Hamilton City Hall to rally in support of USWA 1005's workers and pensioners, and to stand up for everyone who has seen their current and future livelihoods put at risk by big companies, domestic (Nortel) and foreign (US Steel, Siemens).

It's also an opportunity to rightly voice opposition the governments, local, provincial, and federal, who would irresponsibly risk our civic futures, our environment and our jobs to facilitate the private accumulation of wealth.

I urge all Hamiltonians committed to social and environmental justice to come together on Saturday at 1pm at Hamilton City Hall, and send a message to our leaders that we are watching them, and we will hold them accountable.

Michael Borrelli is a social researcher living with his family in Hamilton's North End. He tweets @BaysideBadger.


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By Andrea (registered) | Posted January 27, 2011 at 12:43:03


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By HamiltonFan (registered) | Posted January 27, 2011 at 12:59:43

I'll second that! Nice.

Actually Michael, your article encouraged me to delve a bit further and am just reading this essay I found through Google Scholar. The last paragraph I found interesting:

"The study of play and games is not a trivial pursuit. What we play is a reflection of what we are and what we will be. The decisions we make about sports, in a desire to have them as what Huizinga called “a sound culture producing force,” deserve the clearest scrutiny, in the full light of history."

Source: Stadium and Arena: Reflections on Greek, Roman, and Contemporary Social History http://www.la84foundation.org/SportsLibr...

Comment edited by HamiltonFan on 2011-01-27 13:15:41

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By Mahesh_P_Butani (registered) - website | Posted January 27, 2011 at 13:43:49

A very interesting take on current affairs Michael!

Here is another take on the same topic from two years ago:

Let the games begin!

Does anyone know why the Coliseum was built? No, not the Copps, but the 'Flavian Amphitheatre' - "The Colosseum" or the 'Roman Coliseum'.

Was it one of the earlier examples of an Urban Rejuvenation Project to generate economic spin-offs? Or was it built from a much deeper political reasoning of the Flavian dynasty in times of great natural and man-made disasters?

The real intent behind building this massive structure for hosting -contests and public spectacles- in times of deep trouble may be buried deep amidst the ruins of the Flavian Palace at Palatine Hill in Rome.

The majestic ruins of these grand edifices leave us spellbound and wanting. We search for answers but can only speculate the intent of these grand gestures. Did the Flavians manage to leave behind for the coming generations a 'sustainable legacy'? Where there measurable 'economic spinoffs' for the near term? Or were the Flavians merely consuming themselves with the exercise of 'Will' and 'Power'? And are these majestic ruins - just the remnants of the proverbial 'shrinking skin'?

Closer to our times, while Andrew Stevens from London attempts to find answers to the big 'Stadium question' in the UK for the upcoming London Olympics in his article "2012 London Olympics to regenerate one of the poorest areas of the capital" -- a 2006 study by the European Tour Operators' Association (ETOA) leaves us puzzled with its scathing critique of the massive projected economic benefits and tourism revenues from hosting contests and public spectacles.

One can only wonder as to what kind of strategy did the Flavians develop to win over their scrappy East Enders to bring their vision for a 'sustainable legacy' to fruition, -- or what the nature of these ruins would have been -- had the Roman West Enders prevailed in channelizing the Flavian's investments into developing contemporary industries; nonpolluting urban factories; permanent sports villages; urban living solutions for rapidly changing demographics; and crippling student debt solutions in a jobless recovery... all relevant to the deep troubles they were really facing.

Posted by: Mahesh P. Butani | February 12, 2009

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted January 27, 2011 at 13:48:29

Michael, I've told you a million times not to exaggerate so much.

That really was a wee bit hyperbolic.

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By hammy (anonymous) | Posted January 27, 2011 at 17:06:48

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By mb (registered) | Posted January 27, 2011 at 18:39:43

Only 5 councillors were opposed this time. Doesn't bode well for WH.

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By Hamilton -did- vote (anonymous) | Posted January 27, 2011 at 22:32:47

"...I urge all Hamiltonians..."

Memories seem very short here - it was just last October that Hamilton voted and tossed out (former) Mayor Fred and his WH dream. Fred came third in a three way race, he even trailed to a guy who had been found guilty of breaches of the elections act. His share of the vote was 28%.

You guys are smarter than this. Your efforts and passion to improve Hamilton are admirable. But you need to work on projects that can be built. Quit whining over the ones that have failed.

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By hammy (anonymous) | Posted January 27, 2011 at 22:54:00

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By Mando (anonymous) | Posted January 27, 2011 at 23:23:21

@ Hammy
Funny but you will be one of the first ones complaining that tickets to a game are more expensive and that our tax levy just increased over 20 million just so that we could support a loosing venture.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted January 27, 2011 at 23:27:42

Amazing article Borelli. So glad to read this sort of perspective here. I am, if nothing else, an archaeology nut.

Mayan cities were also well known for "ball courts", many of which remain to this day in the ruins of ancient Maya cities, and spread as far as modern Nicaragua and Arizona through their ancient neighbours. Though the exact details of the games have been lost to time, it's known that it served a key role in Mayan culture and social control, and that they were often associated with human sacrifice. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mesoamerica...

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By hammy (anonymous) | Posted January 28, 2011 at 00:44:00

No complaints here about ticket prices. If this IWS deal passes I will be ordering season tickets as soon as the new parking is in place. Man I hated walking 6 blocks after parking on somebodies front lawn.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted January 28, 2011 at 07:45:23

I find it somewhat ironic that Bratina will be at the rally on Saturday given that he's voting to spend a large chunk of city funds, which could be used to help create some investment and new jobs in this city, to a sports team run by a millionaire as a hobby, that consistently loses money.

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By HamiltonFan (registered) | Posted January 28, 2011 at 07:55:54

TiCat tickets are a great bargain IMHO, we have seasons tickets that cost us about $240 each for the season and it's a great day or night out at the ballpark. Sure they aren't what most would call prime seats but we have a great view of the field, IWS provides super sightlines just about anywhere. A great deal for us and we are keeping our fingers crossed that the TigerCats stay in town, we find that the team really adds to our enjoyment for living in Hamilton.

And BY is a super owner who has made mistakes and hired big mouths like Mitchell but every business organization makes mistakes, at least all those I've worked for.

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By RightSaidFred (registered) | Posted January 28, 2011 at 08:34:36

I am a former season ticket holder but got out years ago as I had a job that took me away from Hamilton too frequently. I now have a 5 year old son and a baby boy and a job that allows me to be home every night. Throughout the years my love for the Cats has never wavered and this time last year I was contemplating getting back into season tickets as a way to spend an afternoon of quality time with my son/family as CFL tickets were still reasonably priced. Now I find myself caught between a rock and a hard place. Regardless of where I wanted a stadium to go, this owner and his mouthpiece have made it 'morally' impossible for me to ever put one penny of my hard earn money into his pocket. This is something I believe Council and this mayor of ours have overlooked because I do not believe that I am alone. On one hand, I am glad we will get a shiny new revamped stadium that I and those two son's of mine will be paying for such a long time, but I fear I won't see much of it from the inside as it turns my stomach to think of how this organization held this city hostage with its threats and intimidation throughout this process. And just to nail home the point, even as recent as yesterday, Mitchell is saying the team is going to Ottawa if this deal doesn't get done! Unbelieveable; the gall of this man to continue with the threats as our council is deciding to spend millions on givinig his boss a free stadium. So, this summer I will take my 5 year old down to ole Ivor Wynne, seek out a scalper, buy 2 tickets and attempt to keep my son from noticing that I'm partaking in an illegal act. We will enter the stadium and take our seats. I will pull out the bottle of Coke and bag of peanuts that I plan to sneak into the stadium and we will watch our beloved Tiger-Cats and more importantly I will say good-bye to the old ballyard and pray my son doesn't ask me for a stuffed Tiger-Cat toy because it will be a cold day in hell when The Caretaker ever gets a nickel of my money.

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By improvethehammer (registered) | Posted January 28, 2011 at 09:51:51 in reply to Comment 58524

it turns my stomach to think of how this organization held this city hostage with its threats and intimidation throughout this process.

I think there is plenty of blame to go around. For all the talk of evaluating multiple sites, it is clear to me that the city only really considered West Harbour. The Ticats tactics forced them to consider other sites. We're at Ivor Wynne primarily because the clock ran out.

So love or hate the intimidation, it was effective. Perhaps they should have done it a year and a half ago???

I just wish the parties were civil to each other a long time ago. I have no doubt that if Bob Bratina was mayor two years ago, the Ticats would happily be playing in West Harbour.

deciding to spend millions on giving his boss a free stadium.

Actually, the stadium will be owned by the city, not the Ticats.

it will be a cold day in hell when The Caretaker ever gets a nickel of my money.

How quickly we forget. The Caretaker invested money in the Ticats when no one else did. He invested in the team, the stadium and the city of Hamilton.

The "tactics" of intimidation (while perhaps misguided) were all about ensuring the Ticats can be profitable long after he is done with the team.

Perhaps you should take a deep breath, and re-think your strategy of giving your nickels to scalpers -- what have they done to improve the Ticats or city of Hamilton?

Comment edited by improvethehammer on 2011-01-28 09:56:11

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By RightSaidFred (registered) | Posted January 28, 2011 at 09:58:04 in reply to Comment 58535

[The "tactics" of intimidation (while perhaps misguided) were all about ensuring the Ticats can be profitable long after he is done with the team. ]

That's funny, up until a week and a half ago BY kept telling me he couldn't make money at IWS. I'm just tired of the lies and won't partake in it any longer.

Comment edited by RightSaidFred on 2011-01-28 10:16:56

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By improvethehammer (registered) | Posted January 28, 2011 at 10:38:08 in reply to Comment 58536

That's funny, up until a week and a half ago BY kept telling me he couldn't make money at IWS. I'm just tired of the lies and won't partake in it any longer.

True, the Ticats have done themselves a disservice by using absolutes and then backtracking on them. Whether they were deliberate misrepresentations or their actual beliefs at the time, I'll never know. Regardless, it does impact their credibility.

I choose to believe they did some soul searching, and found a way to crunch the numbers to make Ivor Wynne work. Perhaps not as well as a facility in a "precinct" with opportunities for non-football activities, but to work nonetheless.

I'm a bit of a pollyanna (as you can tell from my posts and my handle ;)) But I credit them for backtracking -- it shows an ability to compromise. This is an improvement from their stance 4 months ago.

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By HamiltonFan (registered) | Posted January 28, 2011 at 08:56:44

I'm just glad I'm so upbeat and not a whiner like some people, I plan on going to the TiCats store today and buying some Ticat clothing. BY is a super owner and we are very lucky to have him as the owner of our team.

Thanks Bob for keeping the TiCats in Hamilton!! Here's hoping the deal goes through.

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By RightSaidFred (registered) | Posted January 28, 2011 at 09:01:45


you can call it whinning if you like, I call it voting with my wallet. Enjoy the games.

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By PeterF (registered) | Posted January 28, 2011 at 10:28:58 in reply to Comment 58529

It is fairly obvious that the Cats have lost a large amount of goodwill towards the team in the last few weeks alone. Even the die hard fans are having secound thoughts about all this. Maybe this will blow over with time. I for one will also vote with my wallet.

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By Boomer (registered) | Posted January 28, 2011 at 10:47:14

Too bad the city spent so much time, money, and effort on studies and planning to help improve the future of its downtown, only to show the world that even council has no faith in their own work and vision for downtown, all to serve the purposes of one individual. How they can look at themselves (except for a handful of them) in the mirror and like what they see is astonishing. Maybe they should repay the city for all that wasted time and money, including their own salaries.

No a stadium alone will not revive the core. However, showing faith and vision and following through on that vision can spark interest and incentive among others to get on board. We know there were developers just waiting for that stadium/velodrome to be built downtown so they could take part in the revival. A vibrant downtown core attracts and keeps young, educated people with disposable incomes, which in turn attracts more businesses. It's a shame the city will have to wait longer for this to occur, while its young, educated graduates leave to find work and quality of life for themselves, and others think twice of moving to Hamilton.

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By hammy (anonymous) | Posted January 28, 2011 at 11:00:48

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Comment edited by hammy on 2011-01-28 11:10:58

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By PeterF (registered) | Posted January 28, 2011 at 11:31:34 in reply to Comment 58545

Not true! Check out the Ticat forums.

I noticed you were commenting away during the council meeting?

[Comment From hammyhammy: ] oh great. more surface parking in Hamilton. Get lost Ticats
Thursday January 27, 2011 12:00 hammy

Talking out of the both sides of your mouth like the TC management. I see that you are having trouble with math again. Only 26% want IWS renovated is that a majority? With the way the TC have been acting more and more of Hamiltonians do not give a hamster's ass about the them

Comment edited by PeterF on 2011-01-28 11:32:23

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By RightSaidFred (registered) | Posted January 28, 2011 at 11:12:11 in reply to Comment 58545

[The only ones who are not happy with the cats are the WH supporters]

Don't be so sure about that Hammy, It's not what I've been hearing from long time Cats' supporters and season Ticket holders.
And you are right, get over it. I am, going to get over to Copps and spend that money I had slated for the Cats on the Dawg's

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By hammy (anonymous) | Posted January 28, 2011 at 12:31:29

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Comment edited by hammy on 2011-01-28 12:38:33

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By PeterF (registered) | Posted January 28, 2011 at 13:16:12 in reply to Comment 58573

Loook again Hamster. Nice try!


Replay the blog and go to 12:00 pm.

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By whitehorse (registered) | Posted January 28, 2011 at 13:23:57

Friends, please read this article: "Ticats Ottawa-bound if stadium dies: Mitchell" from The Spec this morning and the comments from that web-site:


COMMENTS: By: hshields Jan 28, 2011 12:54 PM Shocked at Mitchell's Actions I can't believe a president of an organization would be so brazen, so careless, so near sighted as to utter remarks so unfounded and transparent as Mr. Mitchell did. His ill-tempered remarks, with absolutely no backing whatsoever to them, seriously brings into play the decision of Mr. Young to retain his services. Mr. Mitchell has brought dishonour to an organization that is in desperate need of community support. Agree Disagree Offensive

By: Garden Jan 28, 2011 11:43 AM Hello Bob Young, no one is indespensible in this world. Remember that you are here to serve us and serve your self at the same time. To date you have forget to serve us. It is time that you play a new music that we like and dance to that tune. The truth is we owe you nothing, but you do owe an apology to all of us not just to your fans. Agree Disagree Offensive

By: RedturnsGrey Jan 28, 2011 9:40 AM It Bob Young really wants a stadium in Hamilton, he should stop threatening Hamilton City Council and Hamiltonians. Threats don't work, it just makes us hate him even more and hope that the Ti-Cats do leave! Agree 3 Disagree Offensive

By: commonscents Jan 28, 2011 9:31 AM Churchill When you click a vote button it registers it and will show your vote after you 'refresh' the page. At least that's how it works for me. It's not like CBC's site for instance where you see immediately the vote counter change. Agree 1 Disagree Offensive 1

By: SonOfSteel Jan 28, 2011 8:29 AM @Heriot - New Ivor Wynn Park/Community Center if anyone in the city (oh, like the COUNCILLORS and MAYOR) needed an example of what would be considered CITY BUILDING, they would just have to read that EXCELLENT post... Well Said! Heriot... Agree 1 Disagree Offensive

By: countalucard1 Jan 28, 2011 5:06 AM Better an Empty House Than a Bad Tenant Please don't pour (my) good money after bad. How many million dollars are still owed on the Red Hill and Linc? And now we want to pour more money that we don't have into a bottomless bucket of swill called a football stadium? Just so a few council members and a mayor can have their names on a brass plate at the front door? Go away. Agree 7 Disagree Offensive

By: geraldp Jan 27, 2011 11:50 PM Who says Ottawa even wants them? Good luck finding anyone else who will take them. Agree 5 Disagree Offensive By: cdnguard Jan 27, 2011 10:47 PM

bye bye and dont let the door hit u on the way out. never heard of such a cry baby team in all my life...but then again..i watch NFL anything else is just a toy :) Agree 7 Disagree Offensive

By: Garden Jan 27, 2011 10:47 PM In Hungary it is said like this, When you dig a ditch for others usually you will fell in it your self. That is what happened here for the Cats. What you project outward will return to you, it may take time, but it is a law of nature. I am just hoping that from 45 million from the future fund the city council will not go for 70 million, it is almost double. The games the Cats were playing infuriated even those who love them for their entertainments. Are we to reword them and stick our neck out for them, that they can have some times to rebound and then booth us in the rare, and leave us with the debt to be repaid by all of us. It is unthinkable that Major Bob, and City Council, and Mr. Murray should enter into deal like this. You are responsible to provide for the sustainable ways that the citizens home owners and renters will not fall into hard ship and loose their home, or cant pay their rent. cant pay their rent.

Agree 3 Disagree Offensive By: betrayed2 Jan 27, 2011 10:21 PM

bye bye Agree 6 Disagree 1 Offensive


I think the Cats really did a GREAT Job to PLEASE their faithful fans ...hehehe....

Comment edited by whitehorse on 2011-01-28 13:30:09

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By hammy (anonymous) | Posted January 29, 2011 at 00:39:00

Peter, Peter, Peter. Spec. polls mean nothing, we all know they cater to the RTH point of view.

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