Brazil Feels The Heat

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International football is set for a big week.   By next Tuesday evening, 11 more teams will have secured their spot in the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil.   Obviously, there will be much rejoicing — or a collective gnashing of teeth, depending on the outcome.   But for FIFA and the home nation, there are obviously bigger concerns surrounding the tournament… namely Brazil’s potential descent into chaos.

Brazilian organizers are facing pressure from both within and outside the nation.  Domestically, the FIFA tournaments have served as flashpoints for wider discontent with the country’s economic direction.  Protests have ebbed and swelled since before the summer’s Confederations Cup tournament, with social activists upset that public funds are being used to fund stadium construction and renovation.  That’s despite government assurances that the funding would come from private sources.  On Monday night, things got worse: violence erupted in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo over wages and government policy.  While the protests weren’t directly related to the World Cup,  they show a disturbing pattern of escalation as the tournament gets closer.

Last week, the activists were handed additional ammunition.  On Wednesday, a judge ordered work to stop at the Arena de Baixada due to poor safety standards on-site.   The ruling couldn’t have come at a worse time for FIFA.  Just a week ago, the Guardian revealed that hundreds of migrant workers are labouring under appalling conditions in Qatar, the site of the 2022 World Cup.

This all comes as Brazil rushes to meet December’s  stadium completion deadline.  On Monday, FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke was in country, inspecting stadium sites and admitting that his visit was a way to put pressure on tournament organizers.  Meanwhile, Brazil are seeking help from the man behind the 2010 World Cup to help them get ready.  South African Football Association President Danny Jordaan has been hired as a special advisor.

That’s all well and good, except that South Africa experienced the same problems meeting deadlines, as well as dealing with poor labour conditions and funding improprieties.  All of the same mistakes appear to have been repeated, which is troubling for a country that is set to host the world twice in two years: they are hosting the 2016 Summer Olympics as well.  Brazil’s woes have swung the spotlight back onto the debate about whether it is responsible to award a major sporting event to developing or economically troubled nations.

The tournament is also causing a headache for Brazilian football itself.  According to this BBC report,  the country’s league system can’t handle the World Cup’s intrusion into its club schedule.   This does not bode well for the European leagues, who will have to try and figure out a way to work around Sepp Blatter’s plan to move 2022 World Cup to the winter, in order to avoid Qatar’s blistering heat.

Speaking of playing in the heat: no one is really talking about possible conditions at some of the Brazilian matches this June.  Technically, this is a “winter tournament” because most of Brazil sits below the equator.  But some cities are within the equatorial zone, meaning they don’t experience winter or summer; it’s more like “wet” or “less wet”.   And while Fortaleza and Recife worked out for the Confederations Cup, venues in Manuas and Cuiabá are untested.  These are cities that sit in the middle of a rainforest and experience average June-July highs of 30.7 to 31.8 degrees Celsius.  Throw in an average humidity of at least 80% during afternoon kick-offs and you might see Northern hemisphere teams experiencing their own climate nightmare.

The window for World Cup ticket requests closes on Friday.  FIFA says it has received 4.5 million requests to attend matches.  But if the stadiums aren’t built, if the nation’s infrastructure can’t transport and house fans, if security can’t keep players and tourists safe, if the country doesn’t want the tournament… then FIFA’s dream of returning the game to O País do Futebol may already be turning into a PR and financial nightmare.

Brent Lanthier

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