Is Brazil’s World Cup in Jeopardy?

With the World Cup just a year away, widespread protests across Brazil have cast a long shadow over the host country’s ability to stage soccer’s biggest event.

President Dilma Rouseff called an emergency cabinet meeting today in the wake of protests in 80 cities, involving 1 million Brazilians. The protests initially began peacefully, but a brutal police crackdown of a peaceful protest on June 13 has caused the situation to devolve into chaos, with serious vandalism, looting and arson, and one fatality. These have occurred while Brazil hosts the Confederations Cup, considered a test run for the World Cup. There have already been calls for FIFA to cancel the remainder of the tournament, in the wake of the violence. Thus far, FIFA has refused to do so. 

The genesis of the protests was an increase in bus fares, however, it has turned into a mass protest against government corruption and the high cost of the World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics despite poor public services. Brazil is undergoing massive stadium construction in preparation for the World Cup; they will spend 7 billion reals (about $3.1 billion) on stadium construction alone. This is three times what South Africa spent on the 2010 World Cup.  However, many have questioned the validity of these expenditures. 

Even when the protests run their course, there remain significant issues as to whether Brazil can successfully carry out the World Cup. Stadium construction is far behind schedule, with the host country already having missed deadlines; the Confederations Cup has been played in partially finished stadiums. FIFA has insisted that all stadia are fully ready by December 2013, and that they will not allow any further delays. FIFA has not been shy about criticizing the hosts; secretary general Jerome Valcke stated last year that they “needed a kick in the backside.” Cost overruns are endemic, due in no small part to an ingrained culture of corruption in the country’s byzantine bureaucracy. 

Construction delays are not limited to the stadia, either: delays in upgrading airports and urban transport may cause significant problems for spectators trying to attend the games. Plans to add bus lanes, monorails and trams in some of the cities hosting matches will not be completed on time, according to the government.  There are also questions about whether there are enough hotel rooms available around some of the venues.  Public safety concerns linger, despite some improvements in that area. The Brazilian government is spending $900 million to upgrade security, and plans to have one police officer for every 50 people at a match, and one office for every 80 people at public viewing events around the country. However, while progress has been made in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo remains a work in progress; the US State Department rates the criminal threat in Sao Paulo as “critical” and over 100 police officers were killed there in 2012. 

Precisely what FIFA would do if it pulled the plug on Brazil’s World Cup is uncertain; there is no precedent for such a maneuver and so it is extremely unlikely, although that did not stop the head of the Brazilian Football Confederation from accusing various entities in England of conspiring to undermine Brazil’s World Cup bid in hopes that FIFA might ask England to step in and host the event. Many of the concerns about Brazil’s readiness for the 2014 World Cup are the same concerns that popped up with South Africa in 2010, and they were ultimately able to pull off a successful event. However, Valcke has broached the possibility of pulling matches from Sao Paulo, so even if Brazil’s hosting is probably not at risk, the venues may well be subject to change.

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