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.