Ready or not, Brazil will be the world's stage

Posted by Tim Vickery

Yasuyoshi Chiba/Getty ImagesFonte Nova Arena in Salvador, Bahia will host three Confed Cup matches. But questions remain about other arenas.

There was fresh embarrassment for Brazil's World Cup organisers at the end of May when a part of the roof in Salvador's expensively rebuilt Fonte Nova stadium gave way after heavy rain. The images went all around the world -- including a frankly pathetic one of workers trying to drain excess water from another part of the roof using little buckets, like children at the seaside. Inaugurated at the start of April, Fonte Nova will host three matches in the Confederations Cup.

True, this is a time for tests -- and something worse happened during the final of the 2005 Confederations Cup in Germany. Then, the elements forced a hole in the roof during the game and water poured onto the pitch.

Report: Friendly back on despite concerns
Press Pass: Dante, Luiz Gustavo called up
Video: Tough test for England

But we have to factor in the key concept of context. Brazil's stadiums have been delivered late and have run over-budget. But teething troubles (the Fonte Nova incident was apparently down to human error) aside, they are modern and impressive, and should form a fine legacy for Brazilian football.

But there is precious little legacy for Brazilian society. The city of Salvador provides us with an example. It started building a subway system thirteen years ago -- which is still not operational -- and there is a race against time to have a stretch of track up and running in time for the World Cup. (Reports of a judge canceling Sunday's friendly with England due to safety concerns at the newly renovated Maracana have provided a fresh point of shame, even though the game appears to be back on.)

A local TV show on which I make regular appearances, Redacao Sportv, recently went round all the twelve 2014 host cities. It was almost the same message from all the correspondents; the stadium was behind schedule, but at least it was there. Meanwhile, many of the urban transport projects, where the population has most to gain, have been scaled down or forgotten about.

Andre Rizek, the show's authoritative presenter, expressed his indignation. "I have no problem with state investment in events like this as long as there is some return for the population," he said. "And that return seems increasingly far away. I'm lamenting years and years of misspent public money. And at this moment Brazil should be the happiest country in the world. We're weeks away from staging the Confederations Cup and just over a year away from hosting the World Cup, here in the land of soccer. But I'm pessimistic."

So where did it all go off the rails?

Much of the answer lies in the fact that the discipline of competition was removed. Brazil received the World Cup unopposed, on the basis that the competition should be rotated around the various continents. This was a measure devised to enable FIFA President Sepp Blatter to make good on his promise to take the World Cup to South Africa. The vote -- narrowly and controversially -- went against him on the 2006 tournament. For 2010, then, he was taking no chances. It was declared to be Africa's turn. 2014 was the next turn of the wheel, and for the first time since 1978, the World Cup would return to its continent of origin, South America.

Ingrid Cristina/Brazil Photo Press/LatinContent/Getty ImagesThe historic Maracana has been freshly renovated though not to the satisfaction of a Rio judge, who has canceled Brazil's friendly with England due to safety issues.


This was announced in March 2003. CONMEBOL, the South American Federation, almost instantly announced that Brazil was its only candidate (Colombia later broke ranks and flirted with a separate bid, but never with real aims of winning). And so when the official announcement of the 2014 hosts was made in October 2007 there was no tension or surprise -- the only name that could come out of the envelope was that of Brazil.

One might have thought, then, that detailed planning might have taken place – that host cities might have been decided, for example. After all, all of the countries bidding for the World Cups of 2018 and 2022 -- when the process once more became competitive -- had the obligation to present their plans to FIFA's Executive Committee. But in Brazil's case nothing had been done.

Brazil had not even chosen its host cities. Worse than that, it would not choose. Seeking to keep things simple, FIFA wanted 8 cities. Brazil successfully lobbied for 12 -- and then handed over to FIFA the responsibility for nominating them. Years and years were thrown away.

Anyone acquainted with Brazil will be aware that all of this has a cost. "A man in a hurry will always be unhappy in Brazil," wrote Peter Fleming some eight decades ago, and much of that remains true today. And the situation was made worse by -- in marked contrast with South Africa -- the lack of government representation on the Local Organising Committee (LOC). In an unprecedented accumulation of powers, the president of the Brazilian football association was also in charge of the LOC.

Rodrigo Arangua/AFP/GettyImagesSepp Blatter was successful in steering the World Cup to Brazil though FIFA has done little in the years since to help get the nation up to speed or monitor its progress.


Difficulties of co-ordination, political in-fighting, excessive bureaucracy, plain old incompetence -- they all came into play. Costs went up, and the return to society went down. At the start of the process Brazil's population was explicitly told that all of the money to be spent on stadiums would be private, leaving public funds for much needed infrastructure projects. It always looked like a dubious claim, especially as four of the stadiums would seem to have questionable viability. And as it has turned out, almost all of the funds spent on stadiums are from the public purse – with urban mobility projects taking a back seat.

This is not to say that the 2014 World Cup will not be a success. I sincerely hope that it is. The game needs a truly great World Cup -- and there is no reason to doubt that next year's competition will go down well with the hundreds of thousands who attend the matches and the billions watching on television. There may well be problems here and there but Brazil has more than enough to enchant its foreign visitors, and the sheer exuberance of the competition should create a lively atmosphere.

But "was the thing a success?" is only one of the two major questions that need to be asked about this kind of event. The other is more unforgiving -- was that success worthwhile? And with just over a year to go to Brazil 2014, the tournament already has two truths -- it is costing Brazil's taxpayers more than it should, and giving them back less than it could.

POSTSCRIPT:

For a few hours it was off, then it was back on again. Brazil's friendly against England in the Maracana will go ahead.

One judge took out a restraining order suspending the game on the basis that the rebuilt stadium did not have all its safety certificates and was not ready to stage the match. A few hours later another judge reversed the decision, overturning the restraining order.

This absurd soap opera highlights two quick points. The first is the obvious one: the disappointing delays in the stadium building process.

The second is the internecine warfare inside the Brazilian state.The initial restraining order was taken out on request of the Ministerio Publico -- a group of independent public prosecutors who form one branch of the state. The swift action to overturn the decision was orchestrated by the Rio authorities. Different parts of the state, with different agendas, pulling in different directions.

Tim Vickery is an English journalist who has been based in Brazil for the past 20 years and is the South American football correspondent for BBC Sport. Follow him on Twitter @Tim_Vickery.

ESPN Conversations