Brazil Keeps its Cool as World Cup Deadlines Loom

Even though there are still two years to go before Brazil kicks off its much anticipated hosting duties of the 2014 World Cup, not a day goes by where the looming event is not mentioned in the press or comes up in the most innocuous and casual conversations.

Brazilians alternately complain about the chaos and corruption surrounding the planning and/or discuss the fantastic opportunities, growth, and riches that the historic Copa do Mundo will supposedly bring. Meanwhile, as the clock continues to tick, the suspense thickens amidst constant reports that tell of the progress (or lack thereof) being made in the wake of delays, bureaucracy, and rising costs, all of which cast doubt upon Brazil’s ability to pull off such a Mega Event.

Despite the fact that 41 percent of key infrastructure projects have yet to be initiated, Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo coolly claimed that preparations are progressing according to schedule.

Last week, in a quintessentially Brazilian show of not sweating it, the federal government expressed an impressive lack of concern at the revelation that, to date, only 5 percent of all World Cup-related planned undertakings have been completed. Despite the fact that 41 percent of key infrastructure projects have yet to be initiated, Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo coolly claimed that preparations are progressing according to schedule. While acknowledging the concern of foreign FIFA officials, Rebelo declared that while “People will have different views, the government has its own opinion and it’s optimistic that it will overcome all the challenges of the World Cup.”

Such challenges are myriad and involve upgrading airports, building roads, expanding public transportation systems, and renovating and/or reconstructing all soccer stadiums located in the 12 Brazilian cities selected to host matches in 2014.

Of the 101 major projects that need to be completed, only 55 are currently in the works. Over 40 percent of airport renovations have yet to be initiated. Meanwhile, seven of the 12 World Cup stadiums are behind schedule, with more than 50 percent of work remaining uncompleted. Among the notable laggards is Rio de Janeiro’s legendary Maracanã stadium. Tainted by corruption scandals, the rebuilding of Maracanã (for the second time in the last 4 years) is behind schedule and over budget at US$650 million.

However, the challenges faced by both Rio and Brazil involve much more than merely meeting deadlines and budgets. Ultimately, they hinge upon Brazilians’ ability to transcend centuries’-old, deeply ingrained, cultural traits, ranging from a tendency to concentrate power and money among a very small elite group of “players” to a propensity for procrastination and unwillingness to plan (which go hand-in-hand with a love of dramatic, 11th-hour interventions and a flair for improvisation).

Such issues are described in some detail in a recent ESPN episode of “Outside the Lines”, that explores some of the multi-faceted issues surrounding Rio’s hosting of both the World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games. Interesting insights are provided by a handful of Rio specialists. Among them are two Americans in Rio, journalists Julia Michaels and Christopher Gaffney, both of whom author perceptive on-the-ground English language blogs (Rio Real and Hunting White Elephants, respectively) that focus upon the many changes taking place in the city. While a lot more will be doubtless be spoken and written about Brazil’s World Cup readiness over the next 24 months, the ESPN report offers an interesting summary of the situation to date.


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