The game between Brazil and England at the newly rebuilt Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro tomorrow night is the first big test event for the showpiece stadium that will host the World Cup final on 13 July next year. It is a moment when the eyes of the world, especially those at Fifa will be on the country to assess their readiness for that tournament, and more pressing, the Confederations Cup later this month.
It should also be pointed out that on a more micro level, but no less important if you are attending the match, this is the first time in the history of Brazilian football that spectators will be expected to sit in their allocated seats. That alone could be chaos.
The decision by a judge in Rio on Thursday not to grant the stadium a safety certificate for tomorrow’s game, since reversed, was a sharp reminder that Brazil is still a long way behind schedule when it comes to its World Cup infrastructure. According to the Globo newspaper, the new Maracana cost 1.2bn Brazilian reals (£370m) and is 48.8 per cent over budget. When it hosted its first event, an exhibition game in April, there were so many problems that staff were reportedly told to prevent journalists taking pictures of flooding and unfinished work.
For that game, the attendance was restricted to just 30,000, but tomorrow the ground is expected to be close to its new 78,838 capacity, albeit a major reduction on the 200,000 the old stadium once held. The Maracana is one of 12 venues, which range from Manaus in the Amazon, to Cuiaba, Brasilia and Belo Horizonte in the interior of the country and eight along the coast, all the way down to Porto Alegre in the far south – but it remains the flagship.
The headline on the front of the city’s Metro newspaper yesterday morning, accompanying a picture of the stadium surrounded by building materials, was “Inacabado” – “Unfinished”. There were still around 1,000 workers busy at the site yesterday morning and piles of rolled turf were dotted around the area, although they were intended for landscaping rather than for the pitch itself, about which there are fewer concerns.
The former Brazil international, and 1994 World Cup winner, Bebeto was part of that exhibition game at the Maracana in April. At a Football Association event yesterday he described the confusion over the game going ahead as “embarrassing”. Now an elected representative in the Rio state government, Bebeto said that the uncertainty was “damaging”.
The Maracana was due to be handed over officially to Fifa on 31 December last year but that was only done on 24 May and, as of yesterday, there was still extensive work being carried out. There remains public dissatisfaction and the potential for a legal challenge over the decision to hand the stadium’s operation to a consortium of AEG, which owns Los Angeles Galaxy, Eike Batista, the richest man in Brazil, and Odebrecht, Brazil’s biggest construction company.
Not every 2014 World Cup stadium has stumbled towards the ever-more generous deadlines set by Fifa in the build-up to the World Cup finals. The Castelão in Fortaleza, with a 63,900 capacity, opened in January and has hosted more than 20 test events already. Along with the Belo Horizonte stadium, home of the club Cruzeiro, the Fortaleza stadium was built in time for Fifa’s original 31 December handover deadline. But these two have been the exception.
The 56,500-capacity Fonte Nova stadium in Salvador, in the north-east, suffered an embarrassment last week when heavy rain caused a build-up of water that contributed to a partial collapse of the roof. The biggest concern of all is the 65,800 Itaquero stadium in Sao Paulo, home to Corinthians, which is more than a year behind schedule, with an estimated completion date on February next year. On Fifa’s insistence, that has now been revised to this December.
The investment has been extraordinary. A recent report by The Economist put the cost of overhauling five of the 12 venues, and refurbishing the other seven, at 7bn Brazilian reals (£2.18bn) which is three times more than South Africa spent on the 2010 World Cup finals – a tournament which had two fewer stadiums. The major criticism has been that public money has gone into the project rather than private, as was first promised.
The Maracana is in the northern part of Rio, away from the tourist areas along the coastline in the south, and the arrival of more than 1,000 England fans for tomorrow’s game will test the local police force’s ability to make sure that visitors do not add to the city’s crime statistics. Inside the stadium there is no segregation for supporters of rival teams, although that is not considered a problem.
Reports yesterday in the Brazilian media said that there would be 350 military police officers in the stadium and a further 650 police working outside. More than 1,100 volunteers have been recruited to help out for the game. The consensus is that inside the stadium it will be fine; outside will still be a mess come tomorrow evening,
As for the Brazilian people, there is a much more relaxed attitude towards the prospect of the country being ready for next summer. Wednesday was a public holiday and despite the storm that blew up around whether the stadium would get its safety certificate, the impression was that work had ceased for the day regardless of the fact that there was a major international friendly in four days’ time.
The phrase du jour in Brazil is “imagina a copa”, rolled out every time there is a problem with transport or organisation. In short, it means “imagine how much worse it would be if this happened during the World Cup finals” with the world watching and the country full of foreign football fans. The Brazilians have faith that it will be all right on the night, especially on the occasions when their team is playing and the country is transformed. In response to the pessimism, the Brahma beer company has coined the slogan, “Imagina a festa” – “Imagine the party”.
The Brazilians are often described as suffering from the “Complexo de Vira-lata”, coined by the writer Nelson Rodrigues, an inferiority complex that they cannot compete with bigger, more developed nations despite having the sixth-largest economy in the world. Like in South Africa, the Fifa deadlines have been hard for them to meet, but also like South Africa the expectation is that they will do so in their own time.
The country’s infrastructure is still inferior to that of the developing world despite major investment in recent years. The Brazilian government has spent 3bn Brazilian reals (£930m) on the country’s airports ahead of the World Cup finals and the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. Despite that, not one of them figured in a recent consultancy report listing the 100 best airports in the world.
There are concerns in the long term with issues of legacy, as is already proving the case in South Africa, who did not even use their showpiece stadium in Cape Town for the African Cup of Nations tournament this year. The three venues at most risk of assuming white-elephant status are those new-built stadiums in Brasília, Manaus and Cuibá which do not have tenant teams.
In spite of all that, the country says it is ready for next summer and that everything will fall into place in time. Ticket sales for the Confederations Cup have been extremely successful. Tomorrow night will be the first big dress rehearsal for next summer.
Grounds for concern: 2014 stadia
* The Maracana is not the only stadium facing safety concerns ahead of the World Cup. The Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador suffered a partial roof collapse last month.
* A further four stadiums are yet to be completed: Arena de Sao Paulo, the Arena Pantanal in Cuiaba, the Arena Pernambuco and Natal’s Estadio Das Dunas.
* The Arena de Sao Paulo is undergoing the most expensive renovation, at £250m, while the Arena da Baixada in Parana is the oldest stadium, originally built in 1915.