Brazil’s World Cup race against time leaves more questions than answers

Brazil’s World Cup race against time leaves more questions than answers

Powered by article titled “Brazil’s World Cup race against time leaves more questions than answers” was written by Owen Gibson in Costa do Sauípe, for The Guardian on Thursday 5th December 2013 23.09 UTC

Looking across the Atlantic from the pop-up Fifaland – a cavernous tented village that has landed on Brazil’s remote Costa do Sauípe to host the draw – World Cup preparations seem to be going pretty swimmingly. Listen to the carefully calibrated pitches from the 12 host cities and the lengthy presentations from the Ministry of Justice, the local organising committee and the various Fifa panjandrums in charge of everything from ticketing to security and the impression formed is that the long awaited return of football’s crowning glory to the home of the beautiful game was a smooth ride.

But Fifa remains concerned about delays to the completion of some of the 12 stadiums and the ability of Brazil’s airlines to cope with the demands of fans and teams forced to criss-cross this vast country. Then there is the question of whether the protests that swept the country during the Confederations Cup will be repeated.

In Brazil, despite mounting excitement, there is lingering concern and anger over the £2bn of public money spent on stadiums rather than urgently needed investment in public services. A media frenzy will greet Friday’s draw, as fans watching live in the 32 qualifying countries start to plot their possible way to the final and the pressure on Luiz Felipe Scolari’s Brazil squad rachets up another notch.

But there is still much to do before the tournament kicks off on 12 June next year if the organisers are to achieve their vision of hosting not only a feast of football but proving that there is much more to their fast evolving nation than beaches, sun and samba.


Fifa has long been concerned about the timetable for constructing the 12 stadiums and has employed a mixture of praise and cajoling to try to hurry things along. Six were delivered in time for the Confederations Cup in the summer but for four of the remaining six, it is crunch time. The tragic crane accident at São Paulo’s Corinthians Arena that killed two construction workers has severely set back the timetable for the venue that is due to host the opening match of the World Cup.

Sepp Blatter said on Thursday it would now be mid-April at the earliest before it was ready to host its first match. There are also huge concerns over the readiness of the stadium in Curitiba, while those in Manaus and Cuiabá will also miss an original deadline of December.

As worrying for Fifa will have been the levity with which Brazilian sports minister Aldo Rebelo appeared to treat the subject this week. Against all evidence to the contrary, the politician insisted the gleaming new or refurbished stadiums would all be handed over in January and likened the last-ditch panic to the nerves felt when a bride turns up late for a wedding.

None of which did anything to soothe the nerves of Fifa insiders who acknowledge that all they can do now is wait and hope. The most likely outcome is that temporary facilities will have to be installed to fit out those stadiums that remain unfinished. Blatter admitted on Thursday there was “no plan B”.


The Brazilian authorities say that Friday’s draw marks a crucial staging post because it will allow them to start effectively planning a strategy to move fans and teams around the country. The huge distances are a direct result of the farcical decision not to stage the groups in geographical clusters. Fifa says that the decision was made at the behest of the local organising committee, which wanted to give as many fans around the country as possible the opportunity to see the home team. This, remember, is the country that plays most of its friendlies abroad on a never-ending world tour.

As a result, teams will travel at least 435 miles and up to 3,482 during the group stages, with air travel the only realistic means of transport. It can take 10 hours to fly from Porto Alegre in the south to Manaus in the north, depending on connections. The decision not to allow foreign carriers to open more routes was based, the government says, on a belief that local airlines can handle the 600,000 overseas visitors and 3 million Brazilians expected to travel to matches. Others are not so sure and high prices are also a concern – some flights on the 45-minute trip between Rio and São Paulo are already selling for 0. With hostels in some host cities are charging upwards of 5 a night, according to local reports, travelling fans will be hit in the pocket.


This has topped the agenda ever since the sometimes violent protests that were a backdrop to June’s Confederations Cup. Opinions differ on whether there will be a repeat of scenes that saw more than 1m take to the streets, but the Brazilian Ministry of Justice this week insisted it had learned lessons and was well prepared.

The protests, which began as backlash over bus price rises, reflected a general dissatisfaction with state underinvestment and corruption but also specifically targeted Fifa over its demands. Yet organisers are fond of pointing out that the streets of London were ablaze withwas hit by rioters a year before the Olympics.

As in South Africa, the more outlandish reports of security fears deterring foreign fans are unlikely to be borne out – instead it is more likely to be high prices that will limit England’s following to fewer than 10,000 – but there are legitimate safety concerns. Rebelo admitted this week that some of Brazil’s biggest cities were less safe than their European counterparts but, as in South Africa, a combination of a high-profile police presence and heightened awareness is likely to see a fall in crime.

In South Africa, for all the excitement in the streets, the stands were largely filled with overseas fans and white middle class ticket holders who were new to the game. They also hummed to the endless drone of the divisive vuvezela. Mindful of that, Brazil passed a law forcing Fifa to provide around 400,000 discounted tickets for home fans. Some cheap tickets were also made available to those over 60, students and those on social programmes.

Ticket sales have gone well, even ahead of the draw. Around 1.1 million of the 3 million total have already been sold, with 76% going to Brazilians. The rest, which will go on sale after the draw via Fifa’s website and the qualifying nations, are likely to go just as fast and a sell-out is expected. But Fifa admitted this week there was little it could do avoid “no shows” – a major problem during the group stages in South Africa when stadiums supposed to be 97% full had large patches of empty seats.And having defended the vuvezela in South Africa, Fifa has banned instruments altogether in Brazil – meaning that the distinctive samba drums that soundtrack domestic league matches will be silenced.

The World Cup has been pitched as a chance to look both forward and back, celebrating the football and culture of the five-times World Cup winners while cementing its place as one of the economic superpowers of the modern world. But the challenges of hosting back-to-back major events in the World Cup and the Olympics are starting to show.

The Brazilian public want to see tangible benefits for the £6.6bn of public money invested in bringing the World Cup to Brazil. Ministers this week pointed to the money spent on bus and airport upgrades but there is a lingering frustration with the Fifa modus operandi that demands World Cup hosts bear the investment and the risks while it banks the ticket income.

As part of an attempt to counter criticism that it simply moves from one host country to the next, taking all of the profit and leaving behind little but memories, the Fifa secretary general, Jérôme Valcke, announced a 0m legacy fund his week. But others, such as the former Brazil striker Romario, have been critical – they fear the legacy will be white elephant stadiums in which normal fans can no longer afford to buy tickets. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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