RIO DE JANEIRO: When it kicks off the Confederations Cup 12 days from now, Brazil will have two weeks to convince sceptics that it can honour its pledge to stage a successful World Cup next year.
The upcoming tournament, in which eight teams — Spain, Italy, Mexico, Brazil, Uruguay, Japan, Nigeria and Tahiti — will compete from June 15 to 30, is seen as a dress rehearsal for the 2014 World Cup, soccer’s most prestigious event.
Some 355,000 Brazilians and foreign tourists are expected for the tournament for which Latin America’s leading power has struggled to complete the construction or renovation of the six host arenas.
The work has been plagued by repeated delays caused by strikes, roof collapse and other problems.
The latest contretemps occurred last Thursday when a judge ordered the suspension of Sunday’s friendly international between Brazil and England at Rio’s hallowed Maracana stadium over safety concerns.
It took the intervention of Rio state authorities who had to produce evidence that the iconic arena met safety requirements for the judge to relent and lift the suspension, which was blamed on a “bureaucratic error”.
The news was greeted with relief by soccer world governing body FIFA.
“After 30 seconds of anxiety, I was delighted to receive a statement from the authorities in Rio saying that it was a bureaucratic error and that there is not, in fact, a problem with safety or with the structure,” its secretary general Jerome Valcke said from Mauritius, where he was attending a FIFA Congress.
A crowd of 66,000 people eventually watched the match which ended in a 2-2 draw to complete the second test for the Maracana, which was inaugurated on April 27 after a $600-million-dollar 30-month renovation.
The friendly served as preparation for the Brazilian national squad ahead of the Confederations Cup, which will be played in six stadiums: Rio’s Maracana, Brasilia’s Mane Garrincha, Recife’s Arena Pernambuco, Fortaleza’s Castelao, Salvador’s Fonte Nova and Belo Horizonte’s Mineirao.
“It will be a fantastic tournament, but the operational part will not be 100 percent ready. (…) I want to repeat that such delays cannot be tolerated for the World Cup,” Valcke warned in April.
Brazil football great Romario, now a socialist lawmaker, reacting to Thursday’s Maracana incident, chided President Dilma Rousseff for her upbeat assessment of stadium preparations.
“She must be ashamed of the nonsense that occurred (Thursday) soon after her comments” that Brazil “will host the best World Cup ever,” he noted.
— High prices for Brazilian and foreign visitors —
According to a study by the government tourism agency Embratur, Brazilian and foreign tourists expected for the tournament can brace for high hotel prices, on average more expensive than those in Paris, London, New York and Barcelona.
Domestic flights can also reach exorbitant prices as the country lacks low-cost carriers and two airlines, Tam and Gol, control more than 76 percent of the home market.
Airports, seen by the government as a major challenge, are also congested and temporary terminals will have be set up to deal with the expected surge in air traffic.
Also running behind schedule are urban mobility infrastructure projects initally planned for the World Cup.
“We chould have done more, but now it is too late,” said Jose Roberto Bernasconi, president of the National Union of Architecture and Engineering, an independent oversight body.
Brazil’s cumbersome bureaucracy and the fact that few Brazilians speak English will be additional headaches for foreign visitors.
Meanwhile, Brazilians are under no illusion about the chances of their selecao, winner of five World Cups and three Confederations Cup, but who have performed poorly over the past months and stand just 19th in the current FIFA rankings.
And the home fans won’t even be able to use the “caxirola”, Brazil’s percussion answer to South Africa’s plastic vuvuzela horn, as it has been banned during the friendly internationals and the Confederations Cup for security reasons.
The decision followed an April 28 incident during which irate fans hurled dozens of caxirolas on the pitch during a match between Bahia and Vitoria.