Size of Brazil's problems: vast distances, a lack of airports and crumbling stadiums

Tim Vickery
Monday 12 July 2010 00:00

"Building work which has hardly been finished, pitches in a poor state, crime, problematic traffic and bad services have made Brazilians feel at home [in South Africa]," wrote Andre Kfouri in Lance!, Brazil's sports daily, on 19 June. "It is hard to imagine that in 2014 our reality will be better."

Kfouri drew two conclusions. "The first is obvious; if South Africa can stage a World Cup, so can Brazil." The second – "the tournament seems to be passing through a period of adaptation so that no one gets a fright in four years."

For all of Brazil's growing economic strength and international importance, staging a World Cup presents huge challenges. Some, as Kfouri outlined, are similar to South Africa. But there are also extra ones, the consequence of staging it in a country the size of a continent.

How will teams and fans get around such a large country?

"I've always said that the 2014 World Cup faces three major problems," said Ricardo Teixeira, the long-term president of the CBF (Brazil's FA) at an event last week to launch the tournament logo. "The first is airports, the second is airports and the third is airports."

Brazil is more than seven-times bigger than South Africa. Air travel will be a necessity, but the 2014 hosts currently lack the capacity to move World Cup-sized crowds around the country. Recent tournaments have had all the teams constantly moving around the host nation. In Brazil, this will surely be impractical. In a reversion to the system prevalent until the 1990 tournament in Italy, groups will almost certainly be staged within one of four sectors.

The split is likely to be as follows; a central axis of Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte and Salvador, a southern block of Porto Alegre, Curitiba and Sao Paulo, a north-eastern group of Fortaleza, Natal and Recife, and an inland collection of Brasilia, Cuiaba and Manaus.

With huge variations in temperatures in the north and south, teams could find themselves playing in searing heat one game and freezing rain the next.

This will be a second successive winter World Cup, in a country where the term has no meaning in many regions. The likes of Manaus, Cuiaba, Fortaleza and Natal are likely to have temperatures well over 30 degrees in June and July. But Porto Alegre and Curitiba in the south may well be under 10 degrees, and could even be at freezing point. Teams based in one region for their group matches may suffer when the knock-out stage takes them to another.

Is it likely to be a well organised or an administrative nightmare?

For all the obstacles of nature, the biggest impediment to the smooth running of the 2014 World Cup is man-made: the political structure of Brazilian football.

For South Africa, staging the World Cup was rooted in the anti-apartheid struggle. In the mind of Danny Jordaan, activist turned World Cup CEO, the two things are indivisible. The point of the struggle was to forge a new South Africa. The tournament was part of a process involving the resistance and the dreams of millions of people – hence the joy when South Africa was confirmed as host.

What is the main stumbling block?

For all its progress, the moment in Brazil is very different. Its football administrators could not be further removed from activists. They represent the old, semi-feudal Brazil.

Federal Deputy Paulo Rattes wrote a Congressional report on 2014 planning. "What struck me about South Africa," he said, "was that there was participation from society and political leaders." In Brazil, meanwhile, "it is a black box that no one enters, only Ricardo Teixeira and his friends."

Teixeira has been in power since 1989. His power base is formed by the presidents of the football federations in the 27 states that comprise this giant country, some of whom have been in power for longer than him.

Teixeira's need to keep his power base onside has already affected the organisation of the tournament. Many state presidents wanted 2014 games to be staged in their domain, so the CBF successfully lobbied Fifa to have 12 host cities, rather than the original plan of between eight and 10. Seventeen cities applied – one later pulled out – and, to save Teixeira from the political embarrassment of excluding some of them, the final decision was pushed to Fifa.

All this took time. The formal announcement that Brazil would stage the World Cup came in October 2007, but it was clear Brazil would be awarded the tournament as far back as March 2003 – Sepp Blatter said that 2014 would go to South America, and Conmebol quickly announced that Brazil was its only candidate, although Colombia later briefly broke ranks. The host cities were not named until the end of last May. This delay has already left insufficient time for a number of transport infrastructure projects. This may not have a great impact on 2014 – the South African experience has shown that inadequate urban transport is not a giant headache in a World Cup because, for such a special event, people tend to turn up early. But it does mean the tournament's legacy will fall short of potential.

Will the stadiums be ready on time?

As Fifa's inspection report pointed out in 2007, Brazil is not counting on a single stadium meeting World Cup standards. Money will be thrown at the problem – but whose? And where is the return? Nine of the stadiums are owned by regional government, although they could be privatised or administered by private companies. But it is unclear how the grounds in Cuiaba and Manaus can be viable. And some of the other projects are reformations of existing stadiums – expensive jobs which will still leave a large gap between the pitch and the fans – a mode of construction generally considered obsolete.

Resources for the work are coming from a credit line set up by the BNDES, the state development bank. Three of the stadiums are owned by clubs, two of whom are extremely wary of taking on debt. It will probably take an injection of regional government funds to ensure that Atletico Paranaense's stadium in Curitiba is able to host games. The real problem, though, is in Sao Paulo.

Morumbi, Sao Paulo FC's giant ground, is well short of the required standard. Trying to keep costs down, the club have sent a number of reform proposals to Fifa, all of which have been rejected. As it stands, Morumbi is out of the running. And with the Sao Paulo government pledging not to spend any money on stadium work, the biggest city in South America faces the prospect of missing out on World Cup fixtures. This would be extraordinary, and there will be feverish meetings over the next few weeks to try to find a solution.

Is there any good news?

Though all of Brazil ended up crying over the final defeat to Uruguay, the 1950 World Cup played an important role in developing the game. Previous Copa Americas staged in Brazil had been almost exclusively restricted to Rio and Sao Paulo. In 1950, the action stretched up to Recife and down to Porto Alegre and Curitiba – as well as to Belo Horizonte, where England lost that fateful game to the United States. The tournament helped to decentralise the game and paved the way for a national championship to be launched in 1971. The 2014 World Cup can have a similar impact, dragging Brazilian football into the 21st century. But, rather like Dunga's team in that quarter-final against Holland, potential and performance are not necessarily the same thing.

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