Latin America
2:17 am
Tue April 30, 2013

Brazil Seeks To Avoid Own Goal Ahead Of World Cup

Originally published on Tue April 30, 2013 10:19 am

Soccer isn't just a sport in Brazil, it's a religion, and the main temple is the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro.

The venue is not only the biggest stadium in Brazil but the biggest in South America. Over the weekend, the newly renovated complex reopened to great fanfare, with stirring musical numbers, a light show and dignitaries including Brazil's president.

The headlines in the local media, however, focused not on the fanfare but on the many problems, from flooding in the VIP area to malfunctioning seats and turnstiles. The stadium was also four months late reopening.

In many ways, the troubles that have dogged the refurbishment of Maracana — labor disputes, protests and building snafus — mirror many of the issues Brazil has faced as it prepares to host the 2014 World Cup, soccer's biggest event.

"Brazil has never received such a big event like that. We are still discovering things," says Paulo Roberto Conde, a sports editor with Brazil's largest daily Folha de S. Paulo. "We are still a little scared if it's going to work."

Several other stadiums are also running behind schedule. Conde says the real concern is not whether the World Cup will be a success — as Brazil knows how to throw a great party, he says — but what the hangover from that party will mean for taxpayers.

"We will have the stadiums ready, that's for sure, but the real question for us mainly is how much does it really cost for everyone," he says.

Conde says that initially the government said most of the money for the new stadiums would come from private companies and sponsors. But it turns out that ordinary citizens are footing some 80 percent of the bill. Other than some flashy sports venues, Conde wonders what Brazilians will get out of hosting the event.

"There's been no investment in terms of subways, transportation [or] security, and that's something that should be part of the package," he says.

Part of the blame has landed squarely on the head of the organizing committee, Jose Maria Marin. A former state governor, he has been mired in controversy over allegations that he was close to the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil for decades. There is even a petition calling for his replacement.

In an interview with NPR, Ricardo Trade, one of the directors of the World Cup organizing committee, says all of the worries are overblown.

"Our keyword is 'test.' We are going over everything to see what could go wrong, and we will correct it in time [and] we will make a beautiful competition," Trade said.

He says Marin "is working very well," and "he is a person that you can count on."

Out on the streets of Brazil, what is preoccupying people the most isn't the organization, the committee chairman or the infrastructure — it's actually the national team.

On a recent night in Vila Madalena, the trendiest part of Sao Paulo, every single bar and restaurant is tuned to one channel, watching one game: Brazil vs. Chile. The game is friendly, meaning that because Brazil is hosting the World Cup it doesn't have to compete to qualify. It's important, however, because it allows fans here to see their team play.

With beer in hand, 19-year-old Augusto is unimpressed. He says he is now resigned to the unimaginable.

"We have given up worrying about it because we see us losing the World Cup as a reality," he says.

Another fan at a bar next door agrees that the team is terrible and needs to get better. Then suddenly, realizing he's speaking to a foreign reporter, his national pride kicks in and he says Brazil absolutely will win.

"Brazilians never give up," he shouts

Unfortunately for him and his fellow fans, that night Brazil limped to a 2-2 draw with a much weaker team.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And now we turn to Brazil, a country that goes hand and hand with soccer. This should be a golden moment for Brazil. It's hosting soccer's Confederations Cup in June then the World Cup next year. But preparing for a big sporting event is also a test.

Here's NPR's South America correspondent Lourdes Garcia-Navarro

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: In Brazil, soccer isn't a sport. It's a religion, and the main temple is the Maracana in Rio, the biggest stadium in not only Brazil, but South America. Over the weekend, the newly renovated venue re-opened to great fanfare.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: There were stirring musical numbers, a light show, and dignitaries, including Brazil's president.

But the headlines in the local press focused instead on the many problems, including flooding in the VIP area and malfunctioning seats and turnstiles. The stadium is also four months late in reopening. In many ways, the troubles that have dogged the refurbishment of Maracana - labor disputes, protests and building snafus - mirror many of the issues Brazil has been facing as it prepares to host soccer's biggest event, the World Cup, in 2014.

Paulo Roberto Conde is a sports editor with Brazil's largest daily, Folha de San Paulo. Several other stadiums are also running behind schedule. But Conde says the real concern is not whether the World Cup will be a success - as he puts it, Brazil knows how to throw a party - but what the hangover of that party will mean for taxpayers here.

PAULO ROBERTO CONDE: The real question for us is how much does it really cost.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says initially the government said most of the money for the new stadiums would come from private companies and sponsors. But now it's turned out that ordinary citizens are footing some 80 percent of the bill. And he wonders, other than some flashy sports venues, what Brazilians will get out of hosting the event.

CONDE: There were no improvements in terms of subways, in terms of transportation, in terms security. And that's something that should be part of the package.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Part of the blame has landed squarely on the head of the organizing committee chairman, Jose Maria Marin. A former state governor, he's been mired in controversy over allegations that he was close to the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil for decades. There is even a petition calling for his replacement.

In an interview with NPR, Ricardo Trade, one of the directors of the World Cup Organizing Committee, says all the worries are overblown.

RICARDO TRADE: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says, our keyword is test. We are going over everything to see what could go wrong and we will correct it in time. We will make a beautiful competition. We are satisfied with the preparation, he says.

Regarding Marin, he says, he is working very well; he is a person that you can count on.

But on the streets of Brazil, what's preoccupying people the most isn't the organization, the committee chairman or the infrastructure. It's actually the national team.

Vila Magdalena is the trendiest part of Sao Paulo. And on this night every single bar and restaurant is tuned to one channel watching one game: Brazil versus Chile. It's a friendly, meaning because Brazil is hosting the World Cup it doesn't have to compete to qualify. But it's important because it allows fans here to see their team play.

Nineteen-year-old Augusto, beer in hand, is unimpressed. He says he is now resigned to the once unimaginable.

AUGUSTO: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We have given up worrying about it, he says, because we see us losing the World Cup as a reality.

(LAUGHTER)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Next door at another bar, Daniel agrees. Terrible, terrible, he says, they need to get better.

DANIEL: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Then suddenly realizing he's speaking to a foreign reporter, national pride kicks in.

DANIEL: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We will win, absolutely. Absolutely. Brazilians never give up, he shouts.

Unfortunately for him and his fellow fans, that night Brazil limped to a 2-2 draw with a much weaker team, Chile.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Sao Paulo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.