With 10 days to go to the World Cup, Brazil was rushing Monday to finish installing seats in stadiums and deal with threats ranging from violent protests to dengue fever.
The countdown to the June 12 kick-off has been marred by a series of protests, from striking bus drivers who paralyzed Sao Paulo by abandoning their vehicles mid-route to
indigenous leaders in bright-feathered headdresses who shot arrows at police in Brasilia, impaling one officer’s leg.
Anger over the more than $11 billion being spent on the event has raised fears of a return to the violence seen last year during the Confederation Cup, a World Cup dress rehearsal, when clashes with police broke out as a million people flooded the streets calling for more money for social programs and less for stadiums. But recent protests have been smaller, with journalists and street vendors sometimes outnumbering those chanting, “There won’t be a World Cup!”
In a country that takes great pride in its five World Cup titles, the tournament’s approach is unleashing growing excitement, with local media providing exhaustive coverage of the Brazilian team’s training camp. That national ambivalence is the target of a meme that has gone viral on social networks.
“I see you! You write on Facebook that ‘There won’t be a World Cup,’ but you’ve planned a barbecue with your friends on game day,” says the caption, attached to a photo of President Dilma Rousseff.
Corinthians Arena in Sao Paulo, which will host the opening ceremony and kick-off match between Brazil and Croatia, held a hastily scheduled second test event Sunday but is still under construction.
Temporary seating areas for 20,000 fans – delayed after a worker fell to his death from one of them, one of eight construction accident fatalities at Brazil’s host stadiums – have still not received safety clearance from firefighters. The stadiums in Curitiba, Cuiaba, Natal and Porto Alegre are also still incomplete to varying degrees. The original deadline for all 12 host stadiums was December 31.
With preparations plagued by chronic delays and cost overruns, organizers have shelved much of the other infrastructure they had promised, from roadworks to a high-speed train to subway and monorail lines.
Football legend Ronaldo, a member of Brazil’s World Cup organizing committee, admitted last week that only 30 percent of the planned projects would be completed.
One of organizers’ biggest headaches has been upgrading the country’s aging airports.
In three host cities – Rio, Belo Horizonte and Recife – the originally planned upgrades will not be done in time, raising concerns over whether airports can cope with demand as an estimated 600,000 foreign fans and 3.1 million Brazilians criss-cross the country.
Brazil will have 157,000 police and soldiers providing security during the tournament. But recent police strikes – and threats of more during the tournament – have raised security fears in a country with one of the world’s worst crime rates.
The stakes are high for Rousseff, who is up for re-election in October. The leftist leader is leading in the polls, but her top rivals have been consolidating their support. Analysts say the results on the pitch will probably not affect her chances. But if the Brazilian team loses, it could fuel anger over the money spent hosting the tournament.
The hosts are considered the favourites, but face enormous pressure.
The last time Brazil hosted the World Cup, in 1950, they lost the final to Uruguay, an upset that still haunts the country.
This year’s final will be played in the same place, Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana Stadium.
“If we do not win this World Cup then the specter of 1950 will become that of 2014 and will haunt us until there is another World Cup here,” Cafu, the captain of Brazil’s last world-champion team, in 2002, told AFP in a recent interview.
There is meanwhile a more tangible threat facing Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal and John Mikel Obi’s Nigeria, whose base camps will be in Campinas.
The southeastern city is in the middle of the worst dengue fever outbreak in its history. Sanitation workers are spraying for mosquitos, which carry the tropical virus. But health officials recommend players cover up and wear insect repellent just in case.