Ugly reality threatens World Cup in land of joga bonita

Brazil may be the heart of the beautiful game but domestic strains, from crime to transport, could test the hosts of the 2014 finals, reports Glenn Moore
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England may have "invented" football but the Brazilians define its soul and no one with a drop of romance in their veins can argue with the appeal of a World Cup in the land of the joga bonito. But yesterday's decision by Fifa, football's world governing body, to award the 2014 tournament to Brazil is, like that which sent the 2010 jamboree to South Africa, something of a gamble.

As with 2010, the political choice is also the popular one, but the challenges are immense. The area bordered by Porto Alegre, Recife and Manaus, all putative hosts, is larger than that marked by Oslo, Lisbon and Istanbul, and lacks Europe's generally impressive transportation infrastructure.

Then there is crime. Last year Brazil's justice ministry admitted to 150 murders per day (the figure in England and Wales in the comparable period averaged less than three). Fifa's inspection report, while recommending Brazil be selected (it was the sole bid due to the now abandoned policy of rotating between regional confederations), is full of subtle, coded references to unfavourable aspects, but even this glossy document has to admit "security is a concern". So are the transport infrastructure, stadiums (at present there is not a single venue close to meeting the required standard) and corruption. Even Pele, who pointedly was not present in Zurich yesterday, failed in a crusade to clean up the game's administration when serving as Brazil's sports minister.

All of which explains the mixed reaction in Brazil to yesterday's announcement, made by Sepp Blatter, Fifa's president, in Zurich. In Rio de Janeiro giant Brazil shirts were unfurled by Sugar Loaf mountain and below the Christ the Redeemer statue that sits atop Corcovado mountain. A banner saying the "The Cup is Ours" hung from a cable car. In Sao Paulo, thousands of balloons in the national colours of yellow, blue, white and green were released into the sky from the pitch of Morumbi Stadium, home of the former world club champions Sao Paulo, watched by a crowd of schoolchildren.

But away from these organised celebrations were dissenting voices. In Rio, Lucas Mattos, a salesman, said: "I'm proud, of course, and happy, but on the other hand I doubt they'll be able to do much about all this misery in the streets, I doubt Rio will get rid of its crime in a few years." Carlos Alberto Fonseca, a 41-year-old security guard, said: "I'm not happy. Brazil has serious problems: hospitals that don't work, extreme poverty and all the government thinks about is having this World Cup to please the foreigners."

The mixed emotions were articulated by the 1970 World Cup winner Tostao, now one of Brazil's most respected columnists, who wrote: "The optimistic say the World Cup will increase the number of tourists, will bring huge benefits in infrastructure for the population and will improve football by improving and building stadiums. Others think that, because of the violence, the problems with air transport, the terrible highways, the absence of railways, the bad structural conditions of the cities and the areas around the stadiums, the enormous government spending, the political interests and the people who take advantage, that Brazil is not prepared for such a task."

Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the president of Brazil who headed a 160-strong party of delegates and media who travelled to Zurich for yesterday's decision at Fifa House, was naturally far more positive. He said: "We will organise a great World Cup and I am very happy. Soccer is more than a sport for us, it's a national passion." Mario Zagallo, a World Cup winner as player and coach, added: "In seven years, Brazil will have new stadiums and we will fix those that need to be fixed."

An estimated £550m will be required for stadium reconstruction. That will be stretched even after the 18 bidding cities are reduced to a maximum of 10 stadiums. Four possible sites are only artists' impressions, the others will need extensive, and expensive, refurbishment. Some are not even equipped for television coverage. Rio's iconic Maracana, which is pencilled in to host the final, has been so badly neglected that there is no way it would receive a safety certificate in western Europe.

Ricardo Teixeira, the controversial Brazilian federation president, said that private investment would meet the stadium bill but there were grave doubts in Brazil as to whether that would actually happen. The lack of football funding is such that nearly 1,000 players leave each year for better pay elsewhere and the national team rarely play at home outside of World Cup and Copa America qualifiers. England last toured Brazil in 1984.

Teixeira added: "The World Cup will leave an important inheritance for the future. There will be improvements in transport infrastructure, hospitals and a significant improvement in public security."

However, no budget has been announced for non-sporting infrastructure and the fear is, as with the recent Pan-American Games, the budget for which overran ninefold to nearly £1bn, government will pick up the tab to avoid losing face, resulting in debts which will cripple the nation for years. "The [claim] that nearly all the expenses will be funded by private enterprise is hot air," added Tostao. Socrates, who played in the 1982 and 1986 World Cups, said: "It will come out of our pockets once again."

But if the World Cup cannot be played in the world's fifth largest and fifth most populous country, the ninth largest economy in the world and, to boot, a country which has won the competition five times, more than any other, and is globally identified as possessing football's heartbeat, where can it be played? South America hosted the first World Cup, in 1930, but has not hosted since Argentina wowed, and conned, the world in 1978. Then the concern was a military junta that successfully used the competition to mask its evil. Brazil has its problems, many of them relating to the inequality of wealth division, but it is democratic and multicultural.

Fifa intends to take over much of the running of the 2014 tournament, including ticketing, and will threaten to move it (probably to the US) if Brazil lags in its preparations. It could be a memorable World Cup, but the clock is ticking and those seven years will just fly by.

Flight into the unknown: The problem of Brazil's transport system

Fifa's inspection committee noted several proposed venue cities would not be able to provide enough hotel rooms, and added there was an absence of viable rail transport, so an "airlift" of fans, administrators and media would be necessary for some matches. It then concluded that "Brazil's air infrastructure is a key and effective element of its bid".

However, it only took a brief thunderstorm in Sao Paulo this month to knock Brazil's domestic air system out of kilter for the following day. The city's Congonhas airport was shut for 25 minutes and the closure, at a major domestic hub, had a domino effect.

The incident increased concern over the country's air infrastructure following two major crashes in the past 13 months. In September last year, 155 people died when a Boeing 737-800 operated by domestic company Gol collided with an executive jet. In July, 187 people were killed when an Airbus A320 run by another domestic company, Tam, overshot the runway at Congonhas.

The Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said after the second crash: "Our aviation system, in spite of the investments we have made in expansion and modernisation, is passing through difficulties."

Travel by road is very difficult in Brazil. An overland journey from Rio de Janeiro to Manaus, for example, takes 60 hours on a bus to Belem, followed by several days on a boat down the Amazon river.

The trauma of 1950: When Brazil first hosted the World Cup

The world remembers the 1950 World Cup for England's defeat by the United States in Belo Horizonte. In Brazil the tournament is remembered for their crushing failure to win on home soil.

Uniquely, the tournament concluded with a six-team, round-robin final round. However, results played out in such a way that the last match, between the hosts and their neighbours Uruguay, was effectively a final, albeit one in which Brazil needed only to win to top the group and secure their first World Cup.

The new, barely finished, Maracana was packed by 205,000 spectators, still a record for a football match, most of them expecting a ritual coronation. Brazil had 30 shots but did not take the lead until shortly after the break through Albino Friaca. The great Juan Schiaffino equalised, then, with 11 minutes left, winger Alcide Ghiggia sent Brazil into mourning. "It was a funeral," Schiaffino said, "a horrible sight to witness."

Many Brazilians blamed their three black players, notably goalkeeper Moacyr Barbosa. This prejudice diminished when Pele led the team to triumph in 1958, but only with Dida's recent emergence have black goalkeepers escaped the stigma. Barbosa was later offered the goalposts as a souvenir. He held a small barbecue and ceremonially burnt them.