Is Brazil Ready?

Eoin McSweeney previews the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.

The Maracanaço or the Maracanã Blow was attended by no less than 199,854 fans, mostly Brazilian, baying for the blood of the hated enemy, Uruguay, showing their lust in a colourful montage of presumptuous celebration. It was the decisive match of the 1950 World Cup (there was no final), held in Brazil and the fans thought that they were finally going to claim what was rightfully theirs: The FIFA World Cup on home soil.

By the end of the match, Brazil had been brought to its knees by the boot of Alcides Edgardo Ghiggia, the Uruguayan winger. The once roaring crowd of two hundred thousand people stood in disbelief as they were being “stripped” of a title they had already considered rightfully theirs. Former FIFA president and originator of the World Cup, Jules Rimet, commented about what happened – “The silence was morbid, sometimes too difficult to bear”.

Since that day on the 16th of July 1950, Brazil have waited for the chance to regain the World Cup on home soil. While they have won it five times since, it is that defeat that still haunts the Brazilian public. On 30th October 2007, Brazil was finally given a chance to redeem itself as FIFA awarded it a second chance to host the tournament. However the nation has not grasped their chance even before the celebration of football is set to begin, as plans for the world’s biggest single-event sporting competition have been thrown into chaos.

In early January, the president of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, made an emotional speech regarding her country’s ability to stage the World Cup after Sepp Blatter, the current FIFA president, labelled its preparations the worst of his near 40 years at FIFA. Blatter was enraged after half of Brazil’s twelve host stadiums failed to meet FIFA’s December 31st deadline for completion. Several people have died in the rush to get them ready and delays are also affecting work on hotels, airports and roads. This is less than five months before the World Cup kicks off.

[quote text_size=”small”]

Already managers have complained about the fixture list and facilities. Roy Hodgson, the England coach has described Manaus, where the team will play their first game, as “not an ideal place for football”, due to the overwhelming humidity.

[/quote]

Two were killed in an accident on the 27th November 2013 when a crane fell and destroyed parts of Sao Paulo’s Arena Corinthians. The accident was caught on video and went viral, causing worldwide shock and embarrassment for the country. Another worker was killed in Brazil after falling from the roof of a stadium being built in Manaus (a city situated in the heart of the Amazon). The 22 year old died in hospital after falling nearly 35m. Hours later, another worker died of a heart attack at a nearby site. His family said he was overworked and he spent long hours working in the tropical heat of the area.

Already managers have complained about the fixture list and facilities. Roy Hodgson, the England coach has described Manaus, where the team will play their first game, as “not an ideal place for football”, due to the overwhelming humidity. The team will have to travel almost 4,000 kilometres in three days to play their second match in Sao Paulo. This follows more complaints from managers about the facilities provided by Brazil for visiting teams. Three-time World Cup winners Germany will be using a purpose-built state of the art training base that they have constructed themselves. German media say the team’s coach, Joachim Löw, is not impressed with the local facilities.

The total cost for the World Cup is estimated to be over $13 billion. This huge spending is risking cuts to public services, such as hospitals, roads and education. Its common knowledge that public money is more efficient when spent in the building of a new hospital rather than a new stadium. The World Cup generates only $3.5 billion in revenue, most of which goes to FIFA. If you do the math, the situation looks bleak for the country. The arenas could end up as expensive and unused installations, known as white elephants, a situation reminiscent of that faced by Portugal, with the country considering razing some of its stadiums just a few years after it hosted the 2004 UEFA championship.

Come August when the competition is over, Manaus will be left with an amazing stadium. But the four World Cup games that will take place there are likely to be the only bit of football, or indeed any sport that the venue will see. The city doesn’t even have a top flight club. The same can be expected of Natal, Cuiaba and even of the capital of Brasilia, causing Brazilian legend Romario, who won the World Cup in 1994, to note: “Maybe they’ll stage concerts at those stadiums a few times a month, but that aside, they’re a joke.”

Last year, millions of people took to the streets across Brazil complaining of higher bus fares, poor public services and corruption while the country spent billions on the World Cup. During last summer’s Confederation’s Cup, the curtain raiser for the main event, mass protests soured much of the spectacle. More recently, waving flags, carrying banners and chanting ‘there will be no Cup’ by at least 1,000 demonstrators in Sao Paulo protested on the 25th of January 2014 against the event. The fear is that these protests will grow in strength and even spill over into June when the feast of football begins.

At this stage it might be too late to rectify an already grossly mismanaged campaign. Both fans and players will suffer through sweltering heat due to the humidity, poor public transport systems, cobbled together stadia and long travelling times. But despite the problems that Brazil have created for themselves and the worries for others, I still find it hard to believe that people won’t instead enjoy the sorcery of players such as Messi and Ronaldo, the colours and sounds of a hugely diverse country, and the joy of the ‘beautiful game’ in the home of beautiful football.

If the 2014 edition is anything like 1950 then we’re in for a treat, but a different attitude needs to be taken by the host country first.