SAO PAULO, Brazil — South Africa did its job to successfully host the World Cup. Now the focus — and the pressure — is on Brazil.
The 2010 World Cup went off without any major problems despite fears that South Africa would not be able to cope. Brazil will also have to prove it can overcome challenges to host soccer’s biggest showcase in four years’ time.
And it will be a hard task for Latin America’s biggest nation.
FIFA has already heavily criticized Brazil’s preparations for the 2014 tournament, saying the country is behind schedule on several fronts, including stadium renovation and infrastructure.
Even Brazilian authorities acknowledge they have to pick up the pace to get the country ready in time, and a recent report by a government watchdog has acknowledged “delays” in work to fulfil FIFA’s timetable and warned that construction in some key areas, such as airports, may not be completed in time.
FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke said a few months ago that Brazil’s lack of progress was “amazing,” and on Monday reiterated that a lot of work still needs to be done to prepare the country for the World Cup.
“There are challenges ahead in Brazil such as building new stadiums, airport, roads and setting up a communication system,” Valcke said. “But we are looking forward to the next four years.”
Brazil’s Sports Minister, Orlando Silva, told The Associated Press during the World Cup that the nation was not yet “at full speed” in its preparations, although he was optimistic the country would have everything in place by 2014.
Brazilian football federation president Ricardo Teixeira also played down “problems” in the nation’s preparations, as did President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who urged critics to stop making a big deal of the current delays and said the problems are being blown out of proportion.
“The World Cup in Africa is over and now everybody is asking, ’Where are the Brazilian airports? Where are the Brazilian stadiums? Where are the Brazilian trains?”’ Silva said Tuesday. “As if we were a bunch of idiots who didn’t know how to do things and define priorities.”
Brazil will also host the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, and it will also stage the Confederations Cup in 2013 as a prelude to the World Cup.
The challenges faced by Brazil are similar to the ones South Africa had to overcome before this year’s World Cup — high crime rates, a huge disparity between rich and poor, long distances between cities, and a need for extensive new infrastructure.
FIFA criticized South African organizers for the country’s lack of preparation ahead of the 2010 World Cup, but the nation came through and was ready in time. FIFA President Sepp Blatter eventually awarded South Africa a nine-out-of-10 score for its successful hosting of Africa’s first World Cup.
Stadium renovation and infrastructure improvements on airports and urban mobility are the main areas Brazil needs to work on, according to authorities.
The government’s budget watchdog, which is known as the Brazilian Court of Audit, warned in its report that work on the airports needs to start as soon as possible.
“The situation in some airports was already critical in 2009,” the report said in late June. “There is a risk that … the planned investments will not be enough and, consequently, construction will not be concluded in time for the event.”
Air transportation will be key in Brazil as there will be 12 city venues spread across the nation, which is as big as a continent.
Brazil will also need 12 virtually new stadiums. It has barely begun working on them.
Sao Paulo, South America’s biggest city, doesn’t even have a stadium to offer at present. The Morumbi was dropped from the World Cup project last month because there were not enough financial guarantees, and the city is in danger of not hosting any matches if officials cannot find an alternative soon.
There had already been some criticism because of fears the venues would cost too much money and would not be used often enough after the tournament.
“There is a risk of having white elephants after the World Cup because not every host city has a soccer tradition and enough fans to justify the existence of such (stadiums),” the government watchdog said in its report.
A recent study by the government said Brazil will invest US$18 billion in infrastructure, and more than 700,000 permanent and temporary jobs will be created. More than 600,000 foreigners are expected to visit the country during the competition.
Brazil will be hosting the World Cup for the first time since 1950. It was awarded the 2014 hosting rights in October 2007, after FIFA declared the race open only to South American countries. Brazil was the sole candidate, although it already was a strong favourite even before Colombia withdrew several months before the scheduled decision by FIFA.