Athletics is going to lose one of its most valuable treasures. The Berazubi stadium, in Tolosa (Gipuzkoa), is the oldest in Spain. It was built in 1923 and will be 100 years old on June 24. It is living history of this sport, but it is in danger of putting an end to a century-old history. The members of the Tolosa Club de Fútbol have decided in an assembly to replace the grass on the field with artificial grass, which is more resistant and cheaper to maintain. No more throwing tests can be held in Berazubi, it will be the end of official athletic meetings, its death as a stadium. Football swallows athletics. Veteran athletes such as sprinter Armando Roca, jumpers Luis Felipe Pipe Areta and Ramón Cid, or the middle distance runner Jorge González Amo lament the loss of one of the sanctuaries of their sport. “If our Roberto Cabrejas —Olympic jumper who died in 2001— lived, this would not have happened,” says former athlete Xabier Ayerza.
A century goes a long way. Tolosa CF was founded in 1922 and a year later construction began on the stadium in the Oria river valley, in a plantation of turnips, corn and alfalfa. It took several truck trips loaded with ash, donated by a local patron, to cover the five lanes of a 400 meter long track. The City Council endorsed a loan of 50,000 pesetas granted by the Banco de Tolosa. The architect Adrián Lasquibar selflessly directed the work, many people from Tolosa helped in auzolan (neighborhood work). The sports complex was inaugurated five months later, although the tracks were opened in November 1923.
Berazubi has survived floods and the burning of his grandstand in the 1950s. It has been remodeled and modernized on several occasions (the ash was replaced by tartan) without losing its status as a stadium, which is now owned by the Muñoa Foundation. An agreement signed with the City Council and Tolosa CF cedes the use of the football field to this club until 2059, while the rest of the facilities are integrated into the municipal sports equipment network.
Football and athletics have lived in harmony for decades. That understanding has now been broken within Tolosa CF with the decision to authorize the change of natural grass for synthetic material. The partners approved taking that step (102 votes in favor, 65 against and one blank) on May 10. The club’s board considers that Berazubi is underused due to the poor condition of the grass and that the Usabal sports complex (another facility that it uses for its 27 soccer teams) is saturated. The athletic section serves some 260 practitioners and is the great victim: “Berazubi is not just any stadium, it is the cradle of athletics. It is in the hearts of many athletes. We are against this decision”, affirms Ramón Goikoetxea, president of the Gipuzkoan Athletic Federation.
Former athletes, former Tolosa CF athletics delegates, former athletics judges, fans and lovers of the Gipuzkoa stadium have launched a collection of signatures on change.org that already has more than 1,900 supporters. This campaign is promoted by Ayerza, a former runner for the club: “Berazubi is the patrimony of the people, the Basque Country and Spain. Putting artificial grass will mean the end of official competitions because it will not allow organizing throwing tests” of hammer, weight, discus and javelin.
Armando Roca, a retired architect and active sprinter about to turn 89, proposes “declaring the Tolosa stadium a cultural asset” to shield its protection: “This transcends a simple change of grass. There is a confrontation between football and athletics that leads nowhere. Public authorities must get involved and come up with a solution. Berazubi celebrates a century. How many buildings reach 100 years? I only ask for an effort from everyone so that I can continue for another 100″.
The City Council has not intervened, says the councilor responsible for Sports, Joxemari Villanueva, of the Euskadi Socialist Party, which governs Tolosa in coalition with the PNV, which holds the mayor’s office. The change from natural grass to artificial grass will involve an outlay of between 400,000 and 500,000 euros. The mayor maintains that “soccer attracts more people and needs more equipment, especially after the incorporation of women into the sport. Athletics, on the other hand, has been languishing. A facility cannot be mortgaged by a few practitioners.”
Lander Gil, head of Tolosa CF’s athletics area, laments that “the club is going to increase the use of Berazubi for football at the cost of harming the athletes.” Last Sunday the Gipuzkoa School Championship was held with almost 500 participants, Gil highlights. This province is running out of facilities suitable for organizing official meetings. Ordizia also eliminated the grass, now Tolosa will. Only Anoeta (San Sebastián) and Eibar remain.
Berazubi hosted several Spanish championships in the last century (1924, 1925, 1926, 1932, 1934, 1935, 1944 and 1959). In the latter he participated Pipe Areta (81 years old), a priest living in Pamplona, then a long jump and triple jump specialist: “A tradition is going to be lost, I am sorry because I carry it in my heart. I blessed the new tartan tracks. In my time it was a nationally recognized stadium. Pure athletics was breathed ”. The Madrid middle-distance runner Jorge González Amo (78 years old) also put on his spiked shoes on the Tolosa ash: “In the sixties and seventies it was considered the best track in Spain because it had a favorable orientation for speed and throws. Losing the roots of our sport is a very hard blow. I don’t know if the current generations are aware of the value that Berazubi has”. Ramón Cid, triple jumper and former technical director of the Spanish team, is confident that the situation can be reconsidered because “losing Berazubi would be irreversible.”
Roca, Catalan by birth but a resident of Tolosa for 60 years, goes to the stadium every week to train. In the assembly that gave the green light to the change of surface of the field, he encouraged public institutions to “get involved financially in putting a new field of natural grass.” Otherwise, Goikoetxea points out, it would mean “taking away all of Berazubi’s essence”. It would be, adds the president of the Gipuzkoan, like having “a soccer field without goals.”
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