Even Pele is critical of Brazil’s preparation for 2014 World Cup

The first installment of regular dispatches as Gary Meenaghan observes Brazil’s race against time to be ready for the 2014 World Cup.
Construction work continues Thursday at the Itaquerao stadium, also known as Arena de Sao Paulo and Arena Corinthians, in Sao Paulo. The stadium is scheduled to host the opening World Cup match. Mario Tama / Getty Images
Construction work continues Thursday at the Itaquerao stadium, also known as Arena de Sao Paulo and Arena Corinthians, in Sao Paulo. The stadium is scheduled to host the opening World Cup match. Mario Tama / Getty Images

Bem vindo ao Brasil.

Welcome to Brazil: The only country in the world that can be publicly hammered on a daily basis for its high crime rates, administrative corruption, poor public transport and increasingly excessive cost of living, yet still have half the world wishing they were boarding a flight to come here next month.

Ever since October 30, 2007, when it was confirmed by football’s governing body that Brazil would host this summer’s Fifa World Cup, there has been an inescapable feeling that this is one sporting event that simply cannot be missed.

The beautiful game played in a country of rare beauty, and football’s grandest occasion held in the nation widely seen as its spiritual home.

Attending the World Cup in Brazil has a magical allure, a special event likely to be experienced only once in our lifetime. Once might be all that anyone can survive.

Upon arriving last month to provide interviews and insights as part of The National’s comprehensive World Cup coverage, it quickly became obvious that Brazil is unprepared: not the airports, not the stadiums, not the people.

But they will be. Kind of. Eventually. Maybe.

The airports

It takes a lot to get Pele to criticise his country, but even Brazil’s greatest striker accepts that the airports are a worry ahead of the World Cup. Recent government figures show only two of the 13 major airports that will be used during the tournament have completed their renovations.

Sao Paulo’s Guarulhos, the country’s primary international hub, has gradually improved over the course of the past 18 months. Upon arriving here in November 2012, it took an hour to negotiate customs; last month, it took 30 minutes.

At the airport’s new Terminal 3, however, it has already been accepted that the automated baggage check and immigrations systems originally promised will not be ready in time.

Similarly, the baggage carousels in Rio de Janeiro’s Congonhas are frightfully ill-equipped to deal with the expected surge in travellers, while the airport in Fortaleza is so far behind schedule, the government there has instead erected a temporary airport constructed from canvas.

The basic facilities are in place, so there should be no catastrophes, but there will be chaos.

The stadiums

The Arena de Sao Paulo, also known as Arena Corinthians, is sometimes called Itaquerao. The confusion in the name stems from Sao Paulo’s Corinthians club planning to sell the naming rights once the World Cup is complete. (Emirates Airline have been rumoured to be interested.)

Yet the name is the least of its problems. The stadium will host the opening Cup match between Brazil and Croatia on June 12, but when viewed two weeks ago, it remained more akin to a construction site than a venue capable of safely accommodating 65,807 spectators.

Delayed multiple times – most recently for the death of a construction worker – the surrounding area was filled with cranes and diggers and labourers dressed in yellow or blue jumpsuits.

Likewise, the nearby roads were unpaved, the bus terminal unfinished and a walkway from the metro station remains incomplete.

During seven years of living in the UAE, it has become obvious that the development of sporting venues can happen in a hurry if there is enough urgency.

Hours before Meydan Racecourse hosted the inaugural Dubai World Cup in 2010, a VIP suite at the track had no lights, wiring or carpet. The next day, it was playing host to royals.

So it is not unrealistic to expect all 12 of Brazil’s stadiums to appear operational by the time the world arrives. Which is not to say they will be fully completed – but they will serve their purpose.

The people

The big kick-off is six weeks away, with 15 teams based in Sao Paulo, yet there is no obvious buzz around the city. Almost every advert on TV is themed around the “Copa do Mundo” and there are plenty of billboards and posters featuring players from the Brazilian national team. But there is no sense that an international invasion is imminent.

“People aren’t getting too excited yet, because we are all so worried about whether things are going to be ready,” a friend said.

As the event draws nearer and projects are polished, the mood will surely change as a nation with football in its blood gets caught up in the moment.

The country might not yet be fully prepared, but the residents themselves have been ready to say “Bem vindo ao Brasil” since October 30, 2007, at least.

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

Follow our sports coverage on twitter at @SprtNationalUAE

Published: May 2, 2014 04:00 AM

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