DISCLAIMER: Before I begin my blog, I want to give you all a quick reference post for my Group Stage predictions for this year’s World Cup. Title will open the link to my predictions:
As for predictions for the knockout rounds, I’ll wait until the qualifiers are decided. Meanwhile I will give a prediction for the final for those curious: Brazil vs. Argentina which Brazil wins. Let’s see if it hold up. Anyways enough of predictions! On with my blog!
“For any country, organizing a cup is like playing a game, sweating and often suffering, with the possibility of extra-time and penalty kicks, but the final result and celebration are worth the effort.”
-Dilma Rousseff, president of Brazil
The 2014 World Cup opened on June 12th with a spectacular opening ceremony at 3pm in the newly built Arena de Sao Paulo. The competition started with the opening game of hosts Brazil vs. Croatia. Each team by now has played at least one match to get things rolling. Even in the months and years leading to the competition, the World Cup made headlines and continues to make headlines now for all the activity on the field and off.
NOTHING LESS THAN THE WIN
Football is a matter of life and death in Brazil. Literally. I’ll get to the Maracanazo in one of my future blogs but you will understand why Brazil has to win. And nothing less. Brazil has won the World Cup five times, more than any other country. They’re one country with such a legacy in football that anything less than the World Cup is unacceptable. In fact it’s the Maracanazo that Brazil no longer wears white. Brazil comes to this tournament not ranked #1. Actually they’ve been ousted in the quarterfinals these past two World Cups. However hosting the World Cup in a country that treats football like a religion would consider the loss of the World Cup like a stab at the heart. They have coach Luis Felipe Scolari who coached Brazil to win the 2002 World Cup heading the team consisting of veterans like Thiago Silva, Dani Alves, Jefferson and Frad as well as newcomers like Oscar, Bernard and rising phenom Neymar. Will they deliver to the challenge or will they choke under pressure? Already they started with a good win against Croatia 3-1 but just yesterday they had a 0-0 draw against Mexico. Makes me wondering if they found Mexico too much of a challenge or they were saving themselves for later. We’ll see. There isn’t a single team in the world Brazil can’t beat. However it is possible for some teams to beat them. Hope it’s not here.
As you may have noticed when I did my blogs about the stadiums, I made comments about the construction problems that happened along the way. There were even construction fatalities like back in November when a crane inside the Arena de Sao Paulo toppled and killed two workers. This bad planning is nothing new in Brazil. Brazil has a habit of building things slower than expected. However it was already noted by FIFA as far back as 2011. Stadium expenditures were originally expected to cost $1.1 million. Instead stadium works cost $3.6 billion. Some of you may remember from the Confederations Cup that Brazil had six stadiums ready for that competition. There still six more remaining. FIFA gave Brazil a deadline of December 31, 2013 to have all the stadiums completed. Six were incomplete by that time. As you may have noticed in my group blogs, there were many stadiums that took until April or May for completion. Even the condition of the Arena de Sao Paulo was in question just 24 hours before it was to host the opening ceremonies and opening match.
It wasn’t just the building of new stadiums that was the problem. Airports in many of the cities needed upgrading to cope with a huge influx of tourists coming in. Thirteen needed upgrading and it was predicted in 2011, ten would not be ready. That led to Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff to auction off many of the airports to the private sector. There were even monorail projects planned for many of the host cities but many were not completed. Some even had to be downgraded if they wanted to finish on time. In May 2014, FIFA reported that only 36 of the 93 major projects had already been completed. However FIFA secretary Jeroma Valcke did make note that many of the projects were meant to continue after the World Cup including ‘legacy projects’ sponsored by FIFA costing $20 million and coming completely at FIFA’s expense.
The slagging preparations of Brazil has garnered criticism from all around. FIFA has expressed their disappointment, even many journalists have dismissed this as the most trouble-plagued or the worst-organized World Cup in history. Even Brazil’s legendary players of the past had things to say about Brazil’s preparation problems. Romario, now a political figure, criticized Brazil’s handling of the preparations but said: “FIFA’s requirements were excessive.” Ronaldo spoke of his embarrassment of the country’s infrastructure and how: ” a series of investments were promised but won’t be delivered – only 30% will be delivered.” Pele however has been the most outspoken in his disappointment but he especially focused his disappointment on the expense of the World Cup: ”It’s clear that politically speaking, the money spent to build the stadiums was a lot, and in some cases was more than it should have been. Some of this money could have been invested in schools, in hospitals. … Brazil needs it.”
FORGET ABOUT THE PRICETAG?
After Pele’s quote, you may be asking how expensive is this World Cup going to cost? Well, not as expensive as the $51 billion Putin and his Russia spent on the Sochi Winter Olympics but high enough. Brazil’s World Cup comes at an estimated price tag of $14 billion: close to the $15 billion spent on the past three World Cups combined. $3.6 billion were spent on either building new stadiums or fixing them for FIFA regulations. The other money was spent on the infrastructure and transit projects that I just talked about. With them being unfinished, you may wonder what’s to blame? The spending or the poor planning? There was even an additional $900 million spent on security. It planned to have one police officer for every 50 spectators. Totals include 150,000 public security professionals and military along with 20,000 private security personnel. Other security innovations include facial recognition systems and unmanned security robots. Sure FIFA promised that they’d give $2 billion to the event but that can only go so far. Even Romario has described this World Cup as ‘the biggest theft in history’ which he believes expenditure will total $100 billion in the long run.
The projects, both successful and incomplete, and the costs that came with it sure did a lot to the opinions of the Brazilian public. A Brazilian polling company published results that stated the approval rating from the Brazilian public to the World Cup had dropped from 79% back in 2008 to only 48% back this April. 55% of respondents believed the event will give more harm than good to Brazil. Even FIFA president Sepp Blatter admitted: “Brazilians were a bit discontented because they were given a lot.”
Funny that this was not the case when Brazil hosted the World Cup back in 1950. Back then, they only needed six stadiums to contest the match and only two new ones were built. Funny how times change, especially in terms of huge sports events.
PROTESTS PART TWO
You may remember I posted a blog about the protests happening around the time of the Confederations Cup. The protests were successful in bringing changes to Brazil in most areas, if not all. Back in the original blog I pointed out that Brazil is a developing country that has made a lot of developments and improvements in the quality of life in the past 30 years. I still stand by that belief however I won’t deny that there are still a lot of problems in Brazil still outstanding. The most notable being health care and rampant crime. In fact I saw a news story around the World Cup about growing up in the slums of Rio. Crime and gang problems are so bad even the police are afraid to go in to install law and order. It’s exactly like it was depicted in the 2003 film City of God. Brazil being a developing country determined to succeed does get reminders how they’re lagging in some areas and I’m sure will over time. The big protest focus around the World Cup has been about the government’s financial management of the company. I’m sure with a World Cup as expensive as that, you can’t blame them for being disappointed.
One thing about the Confederations Cup is that both President Rousseff and FIFA president Blatter were booed before their speeches. Because of that there were no speeches at the World Cup opening ceremonies. Last years protests not only made news for them happening around the time of the Confederations Cup but also that the protests reached the stadiums. Protests leading up to the World Cup led to organizers stepping up its security. The security this time have been successful from preventing protests from reaching the stadium. It’s not to say it’s without noticeable incident. In fact two CNN journalists who were covering the protests around the June 12th opening game, Shasta Darlington and Barbara Arvantidis, were injured.
Reaction to the protests has been understandable but still disapproving. Rousseff came to the defense of the expenditures saying: “the federal money spent on the stadiums is in the form of financing that will be duly repaid by the companies and governments that are exploiting these stadiums.” She also reiterated that all the construction and infrastructure were for long-term benefits for Brazilians. We shouldn’t forget in two of the stadiums I profiled, there will be extensive land development plans for two of the new stadiums so it’s not just about having bigger stadiums. Sepp Blatter has spoken his disapproval saying the protesters “Should not use football to make their demands heard” and that expenditures were “on items that are for the future, not just for the World Cup.” Pele himself, though understanding of the protesters’ anger, but is critical of them: ”Some of this money could have been invested in schools, in hospitals. … Brazil needs it. That’s clear. On that point, I agree (with the protests). But I lament what protesters are doing, which is breaking and burning everything. It’s money that we will have to spend again.”
FIFA’S BLATTER UNDER FIRE
It’s not just the World Cup that’s facing the heat. FIFA president Sepp Blatter has come under fire for corruption. Back in 2011, Qatar won the rights to host the 2022 World Cup. Lately there have been reports that Qatar paid for votes. It’s a wonder too for the World Cup to go to a country only 4,500 square miles wide and with a population of just over 2 million people. Qatar has denied any wrongdoing but the British paper The Sunday Times is insistent in their allegations. Already there’s talk within the FIFA membership with the most vocal opposition coming from head of the Dutch Football Association Michael van Praag and FIFA has conducted an investigation into the matter headed by FIFA investigator Michael Garcia. However it will not be handed to a FIFA jury until just days after the World Cup and Blatter says no decisions will be taken until September or October. The 78 year-old Blatter who has been president of FIFA since 1998 has always maintained that this term will be his last but already the media and certain members of FIFA want him to resign soon in the wake of the scandal and even five of FIFA’s six major corporate sponsors are demanding a thorough investigation of the allegations. FIFA has claimed it’s racism behind the accusations and Blatter himself has described the outcry as the “storm against FIFA” and “discrimination and racism” as most of those accused of accepting bribes are from African countries. The response to the scandal is something that will only be defined over time.
So there you go. This is a taste of what’s in store for the World Cup. Sure there are the pressures on the field but lots off the field too. How those get managed are bound to get some healthy media attention. Some will even require time to decide its fates. You can guarantee even after the World Cup is finished and the winning team is crowned, neither FIFA nor Brazil will stop making headlines.
Grelard, Phillippe and Talek Harris. “FIFA’s Blatter urged to stand down” Agence France-Presse afp.com 10 June 2014 <http://sports.yahoo.com/news/fifas-blatter-urged-stand-down-214645012–sow.html>
Uncredited Author. “Pele critical of Brazil’s World Cup organization” AP- Sports Associated Press. 20 May 2014 <http://sports.yahoo.com/news/pele-critical-brazils-world-cup-172944083–sow.html>
Woolard, Rob. “World Cup poised for troubled kick-off” Agence France-Presse afp.com 11 June 2014 <http://sports.yahoo.com/news/world-cup-poised-troubled-kick-off-113730515–sow.html>
WIKIPEDIA: List of 2014 FIFA World Cup controversies. Wikipedia.com. 2014. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_2014_FIFA_World_Cup_controversies>