Nice has become a cradle for sporting prowess in recent years. Tootlafrance pays a visit to its newest temple to sporting greatness – a place to where Northern Ireland fans will be heading on the 12th of June this year
From the outside, the Allianz Riviera Stadium in Nice looks very much like the standard modern stadium design – like a big white nest and with enormous capacity.It has the generic modern stadium look all right but the capacity is tight at just under 36,000 people. Furthermore, a lot of wood has been used in the construction (something you don’t notice until you gaze up into the rafters and see that what you assumed was steel is actually painted timber) and the design is incredibly eco-friendly.
PR spokesperson Marina Kiefer explained to us that the location of the stadium is in the Eco Vallée Plaine du Var – a vast urban and territorial development programme, whose aim it is to exploit and develop the territory of the Plaine du Var over the next 30 years. The Allianz Riviera is one step in that enormous project based on “exemplary ecological principles”.
Of more immediate concern to readers in Ireland is the fact that Northern Ireland kick off their Euro 2016 tournament on June 12th next in this very stadium where they’ll meet a Polish side renowned for physical graft and an attack with a cutting edge. For the duration of the European Championships, however, the stadium will temporarily drop all naming rights (the modern means by which a company essentially elbows its way into the name of the venue by power of monetary persuasion) so it will only be referred to as Nice Stadium during the Euros.
The atmosphere inside the stadium is remarkable on a few points: Firstly, you walk into a very open space. Even though there is fan segregation (Nice Stadium is the home ground of OGC Nice as well as also sometimes hosting RC Toulon Rugby Club), the seating is open within those zones, so that you can walk around to another seat without any complications to go and talk to your fellow fans. The more compact size also makes for a more old-fashioned cauldron effect so the ambience should be superb. Typically during June, you’ll have hot sunny weather but the cover that the roof provides should keep most spectators in the shade. The stadium also benefits from a clever natural ventilation system that channels wind and which was inspired directly by the Romans, who used the same approach for their sporting venues. It also has 4,000 solar panels.By the time the championship kicks off, there will also be a new huge shopping centre complete next door called “Nice One”, but what is even more impressive is the National Sports Museum (Musée National du Sport located underneath the stadium.
This facility has only just been moved from Paris and the choosing of Nice is perhaps reflective of the increasing importance of this part of France in the French world of sport. Two of France’s golden swim team from the London Olympics were from Nice, while rugby high-flyers RC Toulon – from just down the road – have set the bar in terms of European rugby success. Another sporting heroine of these parts is Camille Mufat. She was another product of the local Olympic Nice Natation swimming club and triple Olympic medal winner. She died in the “Dropped” helicopter crash in Argentina in March 2015 and the lane in front of the museum entrance is dedicated to her memory.
Sports museums can be very hit or miss if you’re not a massive sports fan and this one seems to have come up with a very good presentation model. They divide sport into four main themes – individual sports, team sports, gladiatorial sports (one pitted against another) and challenges beyond the limits. Each area is peppered with fascinating displays and artefacts that very often open your eyes to some interesting facts that you might not have been aware of. Did you know, for example, that the idea of the Olympic torch only began with the Nazi Olympic Games of Berlin in 1936? And if you take a look at the skis on which Jean-Claude Kily won the men’s downhill skiing gold medal in 1968, you will recoil in horror at how crude they were. There are tennis racquets down through the decades, which have changed beyond recognition since the era of Bjorn Borg and you can even have a game of a super-sized table football that can accommodate up to 20 players.