Brazil has five years to pull off a miracle (cont.)
The warning lights are already flashing for 2014. One problem is political. The support base of the president of the local soccer governing board -- the CBF -- is provided by the federations of the 27 states that make up this giant country. Excluding some of the bidding cities from the competition carries the risk of alienating part of this base. So the CBF has pushed this decision to FIFA, which will announce the successful cities in March.
The official confirmation that Brazil would stage the 2014 World Cup came in October '07. But this merely ratified a decision that had been obvious since March '03. The question of the host cities could -- and probably should -- have been settled by now.
The next point of concern is the stadiums. The FIFA inspection report commented that "none of the stadiums in Brazil would be suitable to stage a 2014 World Cup match in their current state" -- which means this is a priceless opportunity to improve them. There will be very few new stadiums. Many existing grounds will be renovated or rebuilt -- an expensive process and, as FIFA observed, most of them "are aiming to maintain the current structure, in most cases there would be a huge space between the stands and the pitch area."
No one is building stadiums like this anymore. Having the crowd close to the pitch not only enhances the experience for those inside the ground, it also provides better images for TV. The danger is that Brazil's 2014 stadiums will be obsolete before the work has even started. I asked Sports Minister Orlando Silva about this and his answer wasn't encouraging. All he could do was respond that "obsolete" was too severe a word -- the classic politician's trick of attacking the terms of a question when he has little of substance to offer.
But the specialists are most worried about the transportation infrastructure. An organization called Sinaenco (an architectural and engineering consultant) is, in the words of its boss José Roberto Bernasconi, "intending to provoke mayors all over Brazil. Work on the stadiums can be completed in three years. But not the infrastructure projects."
The FIFA inspection committee had great faith in a proposed rail linkup between Rio and São Paulo. It's already clear it won't be ready in time for the World Cup. For all the committee's praise for Brazil's air links, the relevant authorities have stated they aren't yet prepared to deal with the passenger flow expected during the World Cup. And most important of all, there is the urgent need to improve transportation inside the big cities, where millions spend some five hours per day, often on foot, on inadequate buses snarled up in traffic jams.
If the 2014 World Cup can do anything to improve this situation, it will have performed a huge service to Brazilian soccer and society. And the tournament will deserve to be remembered as a great success, regardless of whether Brazil proves able to win the trophy.