Brazil’s problems should come as no surprise

It's coming along....
It’s coming along….

There’s been fierce denials in some quarters that Brazil’s preparations for World Cup 2014 are behind schedule. But there’s also talk of flooded stadiums, industrial action, squatters, construction safety issues and political wrangling. Yes, it’s all here in Brazil, and FIFA must be feeling a little nervous about the country’s ability to put on the greatest show on earth.

Amid all the confusion, there’s one segment of Brazilian society that is going to be ready for action when the expected 600,000 visitors to Brazil 2014 arrive – the oldest profession of all. Brazil’s prostitutes – it’s apparently a legitimate business in the streets of Rio and Sao Paulo, not to mention Belo Horizonte – have been taking English lessons in order to capitalize on the commercial opportunities that 2014 will bring. The Association of Prostitutes is encouraging 300 “working girls” to enroll at language schools in Belo Horizonte, a name that makes English football fans shiver (the city where the USA beat England in 1950).

As Brazil start to “deliver” their new stadiums, the centerpiece of the competition, the Maracana, has been causing Rio de Janeiro problems. At times, the ground had been under water and only recently a protest involving indigenous groups living in huts opposite the stadium had to be forcibly moved from the site. There are also rumours that the refurbishment of the Maracana will have to be followed by a second project to make the stadium fit for purpose for the 2016 Olympics. The new design has had its flaws, notably around drainage and the innovative solar panels being installed at the ground.

Such problems would not have been a surprise to anyone 20 or 30 years ago when Brazil was looked upon as a lesser developed country. Today, Brazil is a much different place. It’s one of the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) countries, fast-growing nations that the rest of the world is hoping will fill the void left by sluggish western economies. Brazil is now the world’s seventh largest economy and there’s a big social transformation taking place, although many still live below the poverty line. They have a woman as president, Dilma Rousseff, and she’s quite fond of appearing with the likes of Pele in public. Sadly, it’s still a country rife with corruption and economists estimate that this costs Brazil 41 billion US dollars a year.

Brazilian football and corruption have been bedfellows for years. For example, Ricardo Teixeira, the President of the Brazilian Football Confederation for 23 years who vacated his seat after numerous accusations that he had dubious friends, was called “ a cancer on the game” by none other than former Brazil star Romario, who is now helping to lead the country’s World Cup organisation.

Doubtless Brazil will finish the job and a country that epitomizes a football-mad society will make-up for lost time – it will be 64 years since a World Cup was hosted on Brazilian soil.

But we shouldn’t raise too many eyebrows at the stories about being behind schedule. Virtually every World Cup that’s been held in Latin America has brought with it problems. When the 1950 competition kicked off, some stadiums resembled building sites. In 1962, an earthquake threatened to disrupt Chile’s big moment, while in 1970, there were major concerns over altitude and heat. When Mexico hosted 1986, it was because Colombia, who were awarded the tournament, had the right stripped from them. Then Mexico had an earthquake. And then there was Argentina 1978, played amongst a military dictatorship that dropped its opponents into the River Plate from helicopters. In contrast, Brazil 2014 may be a cakewalk……

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