UPDATE: Will FIFA gamble on Brazil for 2014?
It took a quick thunderstorm in Sao Paulo on Sunday night to knock Brazil’s entire domestic air system out of joint for the rest of the following day.
The weather forced the city’s Congonhas airport to be shut for 25 minutes and the closure, at a major domestic hub, had a domino effect and was blamed by authorities for the chaos which ensued.
I had the misfortune to be at Congonhas the following morning. The queue for the Gol check in stretched out of the check-in area, down a corridor and around the airport’s shopping centre. TAM, the country’s other major airline, was not much better. There was no information about when flights may depart, if at all, with departure boards simply displaying the word “Previsto” (predicted) next to the scheduled departure times.
Such scenes have become commonplace in Brazil over the last year, where two major crashes have led to enormous worries over air transport infrastructure.
The latest chaos came one week before FIFA decides whether or not Brazil should host the 2014 World Cup and was another reminder of the potential problems involved.
South America is due to stage the event under FIFA’s rotation system and Brazil is the country to have stepped forward. FIFA, however, has warned that it could look elsewhere if the Brazilian bid is not up to scratch.
Stadiums, none of which currently meet World Cup standards, and soaring crime waves are also major worries, but transport could be the real headache. Air travel will be the only viable way to ferry teams and supporters around the vast nation given the huge distances, decaying highways and absence of rail transport. An overland journey from Rio de Janeiro to Manaus, for example, would take 60 hours on a bus to Belem followed by several days on a boat down the Amazon river.
The Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) says that its bid dossier contains all the guarantees required by FIFA, and the authors of FIFA’s inspection report seem to agree. You can read a summary of the report here but the key phrase is this: “It is the consensus of the inspection team that Brazil is an appropriate choice to host the 2014 FIFA World Cup.” The inspectors clearly have faith, but recent events heighten the feeling that awarding the competition to Brazil could be an even bigger gamble than South Africa in 2010.
Brian Homewood, Rio de Janeiro
PHOTO: A Brazil fan waits for the start of the World Cup qualifier between Brazil and Ecuador in Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro October 17, 2007. REUTERS/Bruno Domingos
A post-weekend update:
Former World Cup striker Tostao, now one of Brazil’s most respected columnists, summed up Brazilians’ mixed feelings about the tournament in his column on Sunday:
“The most optimistic say that … the World Cup will increase the number of tourists, will bring huge benefits in infrastructure for the population and will improve football by improving and building stadiums, ” he wrote.
“Others, more critical, think that because of the violence, the problems with air transport, the terrible highways, the absence of railways, the bad structural conditions of the cities and the areas around the stadiums, the enormous government spending, the political interests and the people who take advantage, that Brazil is not prepared for such a task and would not be able to meet the demands of football’s top authority…
“The discourse that nearly all the expenses will be funded by private enterprise is a lot of hot air. Apart from being responsible for the public and non-sporting works, the government will spend the possible and the impossible. The Pan-American Games were an example of this.
“The biggest suspicion is that in Brazil it appears almost impossible to hold a World Cup without wasting public money. There’s a generalised habit of wanting to be more cunning than cunningness itself. Brazil still needs to prove that it wants to be a serious country. The World Cup will be a good chance. I want to see the World Cup in Brazil, but without pulling a fast one.”