Top ten worries for the World Cup

Last week I wrote this post about issues that won’t be that big during the World Cup. Some of them surely make a lot of news, but at the end of the day they will be either solved in time or forgotten as soon as the ball is on the pitch. Every single sporting event has some of those and Brazil is no different. After all, who still speaks about the foreigners being thrown out of Beijing-2008 because of protests for Tibet? Anyone eager to challenge the success of the London Olympics because of the empty seats? That is what I mean.

The World Cup in Brazil, however, has lots of other bottlenecks that can be galvanized by such a massive event — probably many more than Germany and fewer than South Africa. Some of them could embarrass the country for long time and impact on the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games as well. Again, I find it very important to have an accurate sense of what really impacts in these events.

Here are my main worries. I won’t dwell on expenses here — these have to be put under other perspectives.

10 – Lack of commitment by volunteers

Volunteers are essential for massive sporting events to work. They put people in the stadia, they organize the backstage, they help in security. Well, in the last games of the Confederations Cup many volunteers just stopped showing up. Of course the World Cup is a much bigger thing, but the record is clearly there.

9 – Not enough English speakers

EF English Proficiency Index put Brazil 46th among 54 nations in that language skill. Even the Chinese, which have to learn a whole new alphabet to do so, have better results. The Brazilian government invested very little because there was a firm belief private schools would absorb a growing demand for English skills. It didn’t happen. I taught English for four years and I can be pretty sure crash courses will do little good in this. Of course prostitutes in Belo Horizonte learned to say “show me your prick” (yes, that is in their vocabulary) and a few taxi drivers are getting some lessons. But the difficulties in communication will affect everything else.

8 – Public transportation

When Brazil won the bid in 2007, loads of urban mobility works were in the plan. Very few resisted. Brasilia, for instance, did absolutely nothing but building a stadium and an extra road in the exit of the airport. There is no rail connection out of any airport in Brazil (as far as I know that is the case in all South America). Moving around will be specially difficult in small cities like Cuiabá, Natal and Manaus. For the Maracana stadium it will be key — there aren’t any parking spots near the stadium.

7 – Air travel

The distance between Porto Alegre and Manaus is the same between London and Baghdad. The distance in the airport services could be somehow similar. Getting flights could be expensive, difficult and potentially ineffective. Government agencies are considering slots for foreign companies to operate during the World Cup — only carriers with Brazilian owners can do that now. That could be some relief, but it won’t fix delays in airport rebuilding works. If the rain season gets too long, there is a big risk that new terminals and fingers in some airports won’t be finished. Authorities played with time and now it is against them.

6 – The police

I believe protests kicked off because of the police in São Paulo. Officers won’t change much until the World Cup starts. The police aren’t ready to deal with spectators. Only a few men have had proper training — many of those are already in Brazilian stadia and their presence hasn’t stopped violence this year. Not to mention they might be in too much trouble with protesters. So much trouble they won’t deal with tourists properly. Specially those that drink too much — Russia and England are already qualified.

5 – Services

São Paulo probably has the best services in the country. In some cases it is faster and more effective than in some European cities (I still love you anyway, Rome). But elsewhere in Brazil services could be really bad. This is what a French restaurateur had to say about his Rio employees a few months ago. “If there were highly prepared people to hire, I would save a lot of money and time. In France a place like this would need just a couple of waiters. Here I need five.” Brazil has to learn how to organize massive events and services are unlikely to be at the required level for the World Cup — maybe that improves in the Rio Olympics.

4 – Brazilian ultras

Brazilian hooligans never go to the World Cup. They prefer to watch their teams at home. They can’t afford expensive trips abroad to watch a team of Brazilian players that spend most of their year in European leagues. They are much more violent than their racist counterparts in Europe — they actually kill people of rival ultra gangs every now and then. In 2014 they will be home.

3 – Politics can influence the mood

Presidential and state elections will be only a few months after the World Cup. The campaign trail is already out.  There is a growing pressure for violent repression of violent protesters. There is a growing pressure for radical legislation to attack civil liberties. Brazilian politicians aren’t well connected with the streets. They are the ones that delayed the rise in transport fares and gave people a reason to protest for. They could always give people another cause to fight against.

2 – Violence

50,000 people were killed in Brazil in 2012. That figure speaks for itself.

1 – The fear of gigantic protests  

They don’t even have to happen to be the main concern for the event in 2014. The shadow of protests like those in June this year will haunt authorities, tourists and most Brazilians that are for the World Cup and want it to succeed. I believe they won’t be big, but they could be violent because of black bloc hooligans, as I said before. If violent protests kick off too soon, tourists might cancel and teams might consider not coming (Italy allegedly was on the verge of leaving the Confederations Cup). It is probably the main focus of Brazilian authorities until the tournament begins. It is too soon to know whether government crackdown will work or not.

About Mauricio Savarese

I am a Brazilian journalist who got tired of reporting only in Portuguese. Politics and football, these are my turfs. Twitter: @msavarese. Email:

Posted on 07/11/2013, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Okay, you have hit on one of my plans–volunteering. I have lived in Brazil for a total of 8 years, am pretty close to bilingual and married to a Brazilian. I am not an official volunteer. But I am going to drive to Guarulhos airport, put on a “Can I help you shirt?” and I am going to help the tourists. We’re not going to lose any gringos to the bad guys while I’m on shift. I am not kidding. This is my plan.

    I get a little anxious about that 50K homicides number getting thrown around too much. The median for Brasil is 26.8/100,000 people. Sao Paulo state is way below that (12.4), RJ is minimally below (24.2) and several of the other states hosting games are below. Not true of Bahia of course (40.7) and some other hosts. The outlier is Alagoas which is the killingest place I know with 61.8/100,000. Not a host of the world cup. Major problems with a drug war. Most likely will not affect directly the tourists….

    I would tend to be worried about the number of rapes here, now more than murders (50,800 I think I saw). An American tourist was raped in Rio not too long ago.

    I am worried too, Mauricio, because I really want people to come here and enjoy. I am going to do whatever I can to help that happen.

  2. Another air travel issue is that many of the Brazilian international airports do not have sufficient runways to support the increase in air traffic. There won’t be room for all the planes!

    And I don’t know if violence will be a huge issue, unless it is in response to protests. The vast majority of crime and murder aren’t in areas where foreigners will necessarily be. Of course if a large protest is set up in front of some game, I’m sure there will be violence issues at the hands of the police.

  3. Brazil being knocked out of the World Cup early would surely divert attention back to the cost of the games themselves, and perhaps see a bigger turn out of protesters on the streets.

    I’m not sure the language barrier will be a big deal though…no self respecting tourist will be in Brazil without a guide book, and these usually contain common Portuguese expressions in the back of it.

  1. Pingback: Are You Going to the World Cup? | twentycentsrevolution

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