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Amid Protests, Brazil's Countdown to World Cup, Olympics Continues

By Rick Horrow and Karla Swatek

June 21, 2013

One year from now, if everything goes according to plan, we will be well into week two of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, watching the globe’s best footballers representing their home countries in new and newly renovated stadia from Brasilia to Fortaleza, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, and Sao Paulo, Brazil.

But cost overruns, construction delays, and most recently, violence accompanying protests throughout the country brought on by an increase in public transportation fares have seemingly put Brazil’s ability to host the World Cup (and two years later, the Summer Olympic Games) into serious jeopardy.

Will Brazil keep the Cup, or we will see it making a long sprint up field towards a distant goal elsewhere—perhaps, even, in the U.S.?

From day one, Brazil’s to-do list leading up to the World Cup and the Games was daunting. According to Brazil’s Ministry of Sports and Portal da Transparencia, the country will invest more than $16.6 billion in infrastructure for the 2014 World Cup, and an additional $6.3 billion for the 2016 Olympics, including:

  • $5.8 billion for transportation
  • $2.9 billion for retrofitting or building a dozen stadia—seven of them brand new
  • $2.8 billion for airports and ports
  • $2.3 billion for health and security
  • $1.9 billion for energy and telecommunications
  • $900 million for hotels

But vast cost overruns, strikes by construction workers, and quality and safety issues have meant that only half of the dozen World Cup stadiums have now been completed, while the rest struggle mightily to meet the December, 2013 completion deadline FIFA has imposed.

And now, protests threaten the very existence of the global sporting event. Even though the country has allocated almost $6 billion in transportation improvements, increases in bus and subway fares and outrage over poor public services that contrast starkly with massive spending on the marquee sporting events have resulted in marches throughout Brazil, with over a million people reportedly taking to the streets Thursday night in Rio de Janeiro—which is set to host eight-team Confederations Cup matches this month as a prelude to the larger events down the road.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the extent of spending on high-profile sporting events has also prompted digital protests, such as a Facebook campaign called “World Cup for Whom?” including messaging that reads, “If my child gets sick, I can’t take him to a stadium.”

While the protests were initially meant to be nonviolent, escalating assaults and robberies have raised troubling questions about the country’s ability to provide adequate security for the Confederations Cup, let alone the FIFA World Cup and the Olympics.

At present, FIFA is dismissing as “nonsense” that any large scale changes to the World Cup master plan are being contemplated, with FIFA President Sepp Blatter emphazing that Brazil "will benefit" with more than just new football stadiums from hosting the 2014 World Cup, and that the protestors should look at the bigger picture in terms of the investment being made and the benefits they will bring.

“Brazil asked to host the World Cup,” Blatter told Inside World Football. “We did not impose the World Cup on Brazil. They knew that to host a good World Cup they would naturally have to build stadiums.”

And in a subsequent interview with Rio’s O Globo newspaper, Blatter added, "In football, the whole country gets the legacy. Football involves the whole country. The country improves airports, hotels, highways, telecommunications, sustainability programs."

Regardless, Brazilian footballers such as David Luiz, Dani Alves, and the popular Neymar have voiced their support of the protesters. Reuters noted Neymar wrote on Facebook, "I’m Brazilian and I love my country. I have a family and friends who live in Brazil. For that reason, I want a Brazil which is more just, safer, healthier and more honest. The only way I can represent and defend Brazil is on the pitch, playing football. From now on, I will enter the field inspired by this movement.”

Brazil’s World Cup and Olympic organizers could be inspired by Neymar’s words, and also, by another country that faced similar challenges when trying to host the world’s biggest sporting event—Greece.

During a recent Bloomberg “Sportfolio” interview, we asked Gianna Angelopoulos, president of the 2004 Athens Olympic Games host committee, what advice she would give Brazil’s World Cup and Olympics organizers in order to overcome the presumptions of failure.

Angelopoulos, author of the New York Times bestseller My Greek Drama: Life, Love, and One Woman’s Olympic Effort to Bring Glory to her Country, didn’t hesitate.

“Number one, have the people behind them,” she emphasized. “No effort can succeed unless it has the community supporting it. In Athens, we started with 95% of Athenians supporting the bidding process—people were excited.

“But what is also important,” Angelopoulos continued, “is that you keep people invested and motivated throughout the long period of preparing for these Games…We were questioned, but we did it on time. Which city delivered the summer Games in four years instead of seven? Only Athens did this.

“Our Games were called the ‘Dream Games,’” Angelopoulos concluded. “It took more than just a village to achieve that. It took the entire country.”

FIFA, Brazil—take note.

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Beyond the Scoreboard
Rick Horrow, America’s leading expert in sport business, and coauthor Karla Swatek give fans an inside look at the multibillion-dollar world of professional sport.
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Rick Horrow, America’s leading expert in sport business, and coauthor Karla Swatek give fans an inside look at the multibillion-dollar world of professional sport.
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