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Brazil Feels The Heat


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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CL draw: Spurs get San Siro return

When Tottenham was drawn against Young Boys of Bern in Champions League qualifying back in August, it was a dream draw for the North London’s debutantes, the easiest opponent Spurs could have faced at the final hurdle before the group stages of the competition.

And although they nearly bolloxed things up by falling behind 3-0 in the opening 30 minutes of the first leg, Spurs recovered to sweep past the Swiss side and move on to the tournament proper, where their only slip-up in six matches was a 4-3 defeat to Inter at Milan’s San Siro. A 3-1 triumph in the return leg at White Hart Lane put Tottenham on top of Group A to stay, meaning they’d avoid some of Europe’s heaviest hitters in this morning’s draw for the Round of 16.

This time, there was no dream draw, and Tottenham must go back to their house of first-half horrors to face Inter’s crosstown rivals AC Milan in February. The best scenario this time, if it could be considered as such, was probably FC Copenhagen, the first Danish side to reach the last 16. But even as a group winner, Tottenham still faced the prospect of many problematic opponents. And in the Rossoneri, current Serie A leaders, Tottenham have drawn one of the toughest. Sure, Marseille, Lyon and Valencia wouldn’t have been cakewalks, either, but this promises to be a stern, serious test.

Spurs, who will hope to be healthier in 10 weeks time, will be coming home for the second leg, of course. And our man ’Arry isn’t afraid of the big, bad boys from Northern Italy, saying he’s happy to keep measuring his squad against the best.

Of course, as North London squads go, Tottenham’s draw looks far better than neighbourhood rivals Arsenal, who face the daunting task of a battle with Barcelona, the same team that knocked them out of the tournament last year, and beat the Gooners in the 2006 final. Good luck with that one, lads.

Rather than Spurs, it was West London’s Chelsea who got the great Dane draw against Copenhagen, while Manchester United will meet Marseille. Inter got Bayern Munich in a rematch of last year’s final. Will the embattled Rafa Benitez still be in charge by then?

Meanwhile, the scabby Europa League teams also learned their fate today, with Man. Citeh drawn against Greece’s Aris Salonika, the team that knocked title holders Atletico Madrid out of the tournament. Obi Woy’s Liverpool get Sparta Prague, and Tottenham’s old adversary Young Boys, still alive in this competition, get Zenit St. Petersburg, who were UEFA Cup winners in 2008.

Finally, speaking of Swiss men and young boys, FIFA head of corruption president Sepp Blattter has apologized for his recent remarks urging homosexual fans to refrain from gay sex in Qatar. I give old Joseph a piece of my mind in my weekly Toro Magazine column today.

Ian Harrison

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FIFA foes fume over World Cup choices

Blatter giveth... and he taketh away.

Two new frontiers of football were opened today, when FIFA announced the sites of its 2018 and 2022 World Cups: Russia and Qatar, respectively.

FIFA officials say they are following the same philosophy that gave South Africa and Brazil a kick at World Cup glory.  That is, they believe they are ahead of an economic wave, and that emerging nations hold the future of the game.

Like bullets with butterfly wings, countries with dark histories of oppression and poverty will now be shining beacons of economic prosperity… and FIFA is doing its part. Nations like South Africa/Brazil/Russia/Qatar will emerge from their shadow of aparthied/absolute squalor/communism/massive economic inequality to build soccer stadiums that will save the world.

You’ll forgive my cynicism when I say, “Pfffffft”.

It appears that Russia and Qatar get the goodies because they can afford to play ball.  According to recent media reports, oil-rich Russia and oil-richer Qatar (a bit of a theme, no?) can afford to open their wallets, while keeping their mouths shut.

England? Never had a chance.  CONCACAF President Jack Warner has made no effort to hide his loathing of the United Kingdom… and recent eks-poh-zayz by the Sunday Times and the BBC alleging that he took some serious graft did not help their chances.

England’s bidding committee promised state-of-the-art stadiums that host the world’s most lucrative football division, the Premier League, with global marketing appeal.  They have shiny new infrastructure in anticipation for the 2012 Olympic games.  And they have a rabid fan base that is apropos for the game’s birthplace.  England promised FIFA money, money, money.  But not this time.

A dejected Prince William

England is also a democracy that must jump through level after level of bureaucratic hoops to get anything done.  Despite appearances, Russia remains under the thumb of Vladimir Putin… and Qatar is a kingdom — and not the nominal one we have in the UK and the Commonwealth.

It may be true that Russia and the Middle East and Africa and South America are untapped markets, whose ability to host world events will grow as their economies rebound from the world recession.  It could be that the old North American and European powerhouses are tired and unable to sustain themselves for much longer.

But don’t believe for one minute that FIFA officials gave Russia and Qatar their rights on the basis of macroeconomics.  They were just following the money… and riding the wave.

Brent Lanthier

Note: At The Rails is neither confirming nor denying any of the allegations made against FIFA officials.  It is merely reprinting media reports.  Many of the allegations were originally made in the Daily Mail and on the BBC by journalist Andrew Jennings.  His website, Transparency in Sport, expands on his theories. You can also read his book, Foul, as well as the Lord of the Rings… where he makes several allegations against the International Olympic Committee.

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