In 1950, the Brazilian nation was left in a state of shock as little known Uruguay produced one of the biggest upsets in the history of world football by emerging triumphant over the hosts in the FIFA World Cup Final. Back then the Maracana was being built in a rush but crucially made it on time. Now, over 60 years later, the rush is on once again as Brazil aims to avoid another public humiliation.
With Brazil hosting the FIFA World Cup Finals in 2014 and the Olympic Games in 2016, the country has a unique opportunity to modernise its antiquated infrastructure, be it from roads to railways and airports to airfields. For example, Rio de Janeiro has plans in place for the construction of 26km of transit bus corridors. Nonetheless, all 12 cities chosen to stage matches, which have among them nine airport redevelopments, are well behind schedule. Infraero, a state owned agency dating back to the country’s military dictatorship, has been inefficient for years and has failed to invest substantially in airport upgrades. Equally, disputes over land ownership and lengthy discussions between the government and contractors have blighted the progress on stadia. Quick fixes may be the solution.
Staging any competition in a country the size of Brazil is a joyless task for the organising committee. For some teams, depending on the outcome of the draw for the Group Stages, it could spell thousand of miles of travelling in between games. And whilst plans were originally in place to divide the groups by regions, this idea was eventually dropped due to the extreme differences in temperature. In mid July to early June, winter is far more noticeable in the south than it is in the north. Furthermore, it has been argued that the competition format is overblown and that the construction of a stadium for example in Manaus, in the heart of the Amazon, is designed to draw in more tourists than fans.
• High-Level Corruption
Since taking office in January, Dilma Rousseff’s presidency has been overshadowed by the resignations of five high profile ministers involving allegations of corruption. The latest resignation, only last week, came in the form of Orlando Silva, Brazil’s Sports Minister. However the problems go deeper, as Rousseff is at odds over public financing decisions with the Confederação Brasileira de Futebol and, in particular, its President Ricardo Teixeira. Teixeira has been blamed for neglecting Brazil’s domestic football structure and for promoting his own personal ambitions that have complicated preparations. All in all, a lack of credibility at the top, transparency over costs and the failure to keep to FIFA deadlines has left a bitter taste in the mouths of many Brazilian fans as well as journalists.
Earlier this year, the former legendary Brazilian striker Romário stated in an interview in the Folha de São Paulo that, “If [Jesus] comes back to Earth sometime in the next three years, then [staging the FIFA World Cup] will be possible.” Recent strikes and the prospect of further strikes, prompted by rising wage inflation, is the last thing that organisers need. In June, workers at the stadium in Belo Horizonte walked out, demanding higher wages and improved conditions on all of the construction sites around the country. The fear is that if negotiations between the Brazilian syndicates and the FIFA World Cup contractors break down, then there’s a genuine possibility of a general strike by workers on all stadia across the country in 2012.
• Human Rights
Whilst the endearing hope is that both the FIFA World Cup and Olympic Games will have a long lasting effect on people’s lives in addition to the environment, in the short term, concerns are continuing to grow over the number of allegations emerging over human rights violations, namely forced displacements and evictions. Slum dwellers in Rio de Janeiro as well as a host of other cities have reacted angrily to be being forcefully relocated to make room for stadia and surrounding sites. Given that Dilma Rousseff is still in the early days of her Presidency, she has an opportunity to bring about change when it comes to protecting the vulnerable people in Brazil’s society – an issue that she has publicly declared an interest in pursuing.
Brazil has always had a very distinct style on the pitch and it seems that the same can be said when it comes to its preparations for the FIFA World Cup Finals. Despite the country being aware of the impact of hosting such a global event and that preparations would force the nation into a radical overhaul of both the infrastructure and society as a whole, more than four years after being awarded the competition, Brazil has little to show for it. The decision to relax normally strict rules on building and managing publicly funded projects has led to rampant cost escalation, something which incidentally occurred when Brazil last hosted a major competition, namely the Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2007.
With meetings scheduled over planned strikes and new FIFA deadlines in place, 2012 has all the hallmarks of being a make or break year for the Latin American nation. Questions remain as to whether the country will shine or continue to be associated with structural inadequacy and corruption. Whatever the outcome, the country will be hoping that come 12th June 2014, and the opening game at Corinthians new stadium in Itaquera, it’ll be alright on the night.