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Brazil preps while the world awaits

Updated: 2014-03-04 08:00
By Agence France-Presse in Rio de Janeiro ( China Daily)

Plenty of last-minute tweaks ahead of Cup kickoff on June 12

Brazil erupted in wild celebrations after being chosen to host the World Cup, a chance for the "sleeping giant" of 200 million to show its growing sporting and economic clout.

Seven years later, with just 100 days until the tournament kicks off, the host nation is racing against the clock to be ready for the greatest global sporting event, starting on June 12.

Stadium delays and security concerns fueled by protests against corruption and poor public facilities have dampened the initial enthusiasm of both Brazilians and FIFA.

For former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, hosting the extravaganza for the first time in 64 years was a dream ambition - a chance to erase the nightmare of a 1950 final loss to Uruguay.

But just as importantly he saw it as a chance to project the country onto the forefront of the world stage.

Fast forward to the final frenetic months of preparations and Brazil is straining every sinew to be ready after FIFA president Sepp Blatter slammed the host for starting preparations too late.

"Brazil has come to realize that it started too late. It is the country that is the most delayed since I have been at FIFA," Blatter told Swiss newspaper 24 Hours in early January.

"Yet it is the only country that has had such a long time - seven years - to prepare."

Brazil preps while the world awaits

Half of the 12 stadiums missed FIFA's Dec 31 deadline to be ready. Three have been the site of fatal accidents and five still have to be delivered.

A huge revamp of Brazil's chronically saturated airports and transport upgrades have also fallen far behind schedule in a country known for a sunny disposition, where things invariably happen late if they happen at all.

Add threats of fresh public protests against the cost of staging the event - around $11 billion - and there is no shortage of negative headlines for current President Dilma Rousseff in what she hopes is a re-election year.

Cultural problems

"One of the negatives regarding the organization of the World Cup in Brazil is improvization," said Jose Carlos Marques, professor of Sao Paulo University's (Unesp) Sports Observatory.

"It's a cultural issue to believe that everything can be done at the last minute, without intense planning, that all will be resolved through Brazilian hospitality and warmth," Marques said.

Protests at the cost of the event have seen marchers chanting "There will be no Cup!" in the streets as they demand more public investment in areas such as transport and education.

Last year saw more than a million people hit the streets in Brazil's biggest demonstrations in a generation.

Recent protests have been smaller, albeit more violent.

Brazilians dream of their team landing a sixth World Cup triumph on July 13 but public support for the event has fallen from 79 percent in 2008 to 52 percent now, according to a Datafolha poll taken last week.

Seeking to counter anarchists such as the Black Bloc group, which has given recent demonstrations a radical edge, the government hopes to pass legislation banning the wearing of masks at protests.

Brasilia has said it will send in the army if necessary to keep order and could deploy "ninja" police experts in martial arts such as ju-jitsu, a tactic already tested at a recent protest in Sao Paulo.

Lula's and Rousseff's Workers Party is hard at work selling a positive image of the World Cup, tweeting under the hashtag #Vai ter Copa (There will be a Cup).

Speed limit

Given the myriad delays which have accompanied preparations, Brazil has finally stepped up the pace.

FIFA secretary-general Jerome Valcke hopes the country can cope with the change of gear.

"We are at 200 kilometers per hour, we are far, far beyond the normal limit speed you can have on a road," Valcke said last month.

He cited "a lot of things to do, and we are working full speed."

Curitiba was almost axed from the venue list but was saved after FIFA accepted it was getting back on track.

There also remains work to do at the Cuiabha stadium, as well as the Sao Paulo facility that will host the June 12 opening match between Brazil and Croatia.

Rousseff and most Brazilians nonetheless are confident the country will be ready come the start of the event.

According to the president, what she terms the "Cup of Cups" will be "a sporting event, yes ... but also an opportunity for Brazil to show itself off to the world to show the strength and vitality of the Brazilian nation and Brazilians' happiness to receive all their guests from around the world."

(China Daily 03/04/2014 page24)