Across Mexico, World Cup infrastructure threatens biodiversity and communities

133

Pedro Alcocer, coordinator at the NGO Anillo Primavera, vividly recalls the excitement of spotting pumas in the Primavera biosphere reserve near Guadalajara City, close to Akron Stadium. These elusive creatures, thought to have disappeared from the area in the 1980s, have made a remarkable return. Since 2017, camera traps have captured eleven sightings of male, female, and cub Mexican pumas.

However, this feline resurgence faces a new challenge: the encroaching development associated with the 2026 FIFA World Cup, which Mexico is co-hosting with the U.S. and Canada. Guadalajara’s pumas are not the sole victims; in Mexico City and Monterrey—other host cities—projects linked to the tournament threaten surrounding ecosystems, water resources, and wildlife conservation.

Saving Guadalajara’s pumas

La Primavera, designated a UNESCO biosphere reserve in 2006, envelops Akron Stadium. This 30,000-hectare protected area lies within the Bajío aquifer recharge zone, safeguarded by a Jalisco state decree since 2019.

Alcocer reveals a troubling reality: “Some people would prefer La Primavera to no longer be a biosphere reserve. Economic interests, particularly in real estate, could transform this protected area into an urban park. For those involved in this business, the existence of pumas poses challenges.”

As the World Cup approaches, balancing development and conservation becomes critical. The fate of Guadalajara’s pumas hangs in the balance.

Anillo Primavera, the organization led by Pedro Alcocer, emerged from the Jesuit University of Guadalajara (ITESO). It unites professors, students, and residents in a mission to safeguard the Primavera biosphere and its diverse wildlife, including pumas, golden eagles, raccoons, deer, and migratory birds.

However, as Guadalajara prepares to host four World Cup matches, environmentalists express concern about a potential replay of the real estate expansion triggered during the 2011 Pan American Games. The Villa Panamericana, initially built to accommodate thousands of athletes within the protected water absorption area of El Bajío, now stands as a real estate development. Abusive construction and wastewater contamination followed.

The municipal government of Zapopan, part of the Guadalajara Metropolitan Area near Akron Stadium, claims no public works are registered ahead of the World Cup. However, the newly elected local administration plans urban mobility improvements and road widening for the event.

The area’s pumas face further threats. Sandra Valdes, coordinator of ITESO’s architecture faculty and part of Anillo Primavera, explains that the male puma requires approximately 60,000 hectares—double the extent of La Primavera. With an expected 50,000 spectators and 4,000 parked cars during the Cup, assessing the impact on water absorption, light, and acoustic pollution becomes urgent.

Activists, including Gloria Sánchez from the Puerta Poniente civil society group, advocate for a buffer area around La Primavera. Their goal: prevent real estate expansion and safeguard against forest fires and monocultures of berries and agave.

Mexico City’s Azteca Stadium Expansion: Balancing Development and Environmental Impact

In Mexico City, concerns are mounting over the expansion of Azteca Stadium, slated to host the World Cup’s opening match. The area predominantly houses Indigenous communities in the settlements of Saint Úrsula Coapa and San Lorenzo Huipulco, with roots dating back to pre-Hispanic times.

Natalia Lara, an environmentalist residing near Azteca, acknowledges that Mexico has fewer stadiums compared to the U.S. and Canada. The stadium selection seemed almost inevitable, given the requirements.

Ruben Ramírez, traditional authority of Santa Úrsula Coapa, shares a personal connection to the toll of development. In 1962, his grandparents were among 500 local families evicted for Azteca Stadium’s construction.

Official documents outline plans for two seven-level buildings housing hotels and offices, a shopping center, and three multistory parking lots. However, residents were neither consulted nor informed about environmental impact assessments. According to Mexico City’s constitution, such works require authorization from the original peoples, which hasn’t been granted.

The construction process threatens approximately 800 native trees, including species like tepozán (Buddleja cordata) and pirul (Schinus areira). Some of these trees form part of the local Arlington Park. Moreover, water scarcity will worsen due to new roads and buildings. Lara, a resident near the stadium, has fought for water rights for a decade. She emphasizes that the Water Forest—a vital biological corridor covering over 230,000 hectares—helps filter groundwater essential for Mexico City’s residents.

Lara concludes, “The World Cup becomes an excuse for construction. We’re planning protests and legal actions to halt it.”

Monterrey: A very trafficked protected area

In Monterrey, the capital of Nuevo León, BBVA Stadium is set to host four World Cup matches in 2026. This modern venue, inaugurated in 2015, occupies La Pastora, a 100-hectare park acquired by the state government in the 1980s for public use.

Adjacent to BBVA Stadium lies Rio La Silla Park, a protected natural area and biological corridor teeming with diverse animal and plant species, including migratory birds. Antonio Hernandez, a biologist collaborating with local residents to safeguard Monterrey’s natural spaces, highlights the presence of the federally protected American beaver, which has recently returned to the region.

However, concerns arise as infrastructure development and increased mobility threaten flora and fauna preservation. Road widening projects prioritize stadium access over citizen mobility, raising questions about community needs versus World Cup economic interests.

Mexico’s environment ministry (SEMARNAT) refrains from commenting, citing non-federal jurisdiction. Similarly, the governments of Jalisco and Mexico City remain silent.

Activists and local communities emphasize the need to consider environmental and wildlife conservation during major events. Valdes from Anillo Primavera underscores the impact on species like the puma, urging awareness of light and noise pollution. Conservation should guide significant public policy decisions, preserving ecosystems and enhancing local quality of life.

Source: Mongabay