I'm a little hesitant to write about the World Cup--it seems to be one of the international media's favorite topics when it comes to Brazil, usually a report on Brazil's delayed preparations every month or so. But the latest development seems to be a tipping point in the relationship between FIFA and Brazilian organizers, and one that reveals many of the issues surrounding the event.
After ongoing tensions, FIFA's General Secretary Jerome Valcke finally lost his cool on Friday and vented his frustrations about Brazil's progress. It wasn't exactly a surprise, although he'd made very positive about Brazil's preparations during his January visit. Now, he had this to say:
On overall preprations: "I don't understand why things are not moving. The stadiums are not on schedule any longer - and why are a lot of things late? The concern is nothing is made or prepared to receive so many people. I am sorry to say but things are not working in Brazil. Our concern is nothing is made or prepared to receive so many people because the world wants to go to Brazil."
On comparing it with the last World Cup: "That's the big difference between South Africa in 2010 and Brazil. The people don't care about security, they don't care about the weather - it's amazing. In South Africa it was winter, it was dark. In Brazil the weather will be perfect. But I can tell you from the other side of the organization it is not exactly that."
On Brazil's possible motives: ''What is the World Cup for Brazil: To organise the World Cup or to win the World Cup? I think it's to win the World Cup. South Africa's priorities were to organize the World Cup not win it. It seems all Brazil wants to do is win it, and that must change."
On the World Cup law, the legal framework FIFA requires for Brazil to hold the event: "We should have received these documents signed by 2007 and we are in 2012."
His advice? "You have to push yourself, get a kick up the backside and just deliver this World Cup."
Naturally, that did not go over well in Brazil.
Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo said the Brazilian government would no longer recognize Valcke as a representative of FIFA, and demanded a new interlocutor. He said Valcke's comments were "unacceptable" and that the World Cup law, due to be voted on this week after innumerous delays, was coming along at a "responable pace." On Twitter, he said: "I still claim that FIFA are not above the sovereignty of Brazil and I will continue to fighting for the sovereignty of our country."
In response, Valcke dismissed the minister's anger. “I made one comment saying things are not working well and I for once say exactly what is happening in Brazil. If the result is they don’t want to talk to me anymore, I’m not the guy they want to work with, then that’s a bit puerile.”
It's unclear what will happen this week but evidently, the gloves have come off. FIFA has admitted that it has no Plan B, and that the games will be held in Brazil. But given that the Confederations Cup will be held next year and preparations are still behind, it seems possible that this sparring is not over.
With this in mind, I thought it might be helpful to keep some things in mind about what is really going on with the World Cup, and what's at stake.
10. Brazil was the only country to vie for the 2014 World Cup. FIFA had decided that it would be held in South America under its rotation system, but Brazil was chosen by default after being the only country to offer to host the games. Though Brazil had to meet FIFA's requirements in order to be chosen--ranging from stadiums to transportation to security--it also faced no opposition. So initially, it was easier to focus on celebrating the country's selection as host (especially after it was also chosen to host the Olympics), rather than be immediately held accountable for what it had actually agreed to do.
9. Brazil's selection as World Cup host came during the high-flying years of President Lula's second administration, just at the very beginning of Brazil's "emergence" on the world scene. It was a somewhat easier political choice to make because Lula was extremely popular and it was not something his administration would have to deal too much with; much of the responsibility would fall to the next president. (That's even more valid given the delays in preparations, since FIFA claims more could have been done as soon as Brazil was chosen). My sense is that the current government has felt that the Cup is an inherited responsibility that it will have to make the best of given the circumstances.
8. The Brazilian government is using billions of dollars in public funds to build stadiums and infrastructure for the World Cup. This essentially means that in theory, Brazilian taxpayers are paying for the event, though they never had a say in whether they wanted the event or not. Through 2013, the government estimates spending of around $100 billion on World Cup and Olympics construction, $258 billion on construction, and $477 billion on infrastructure. Depending on the aftermath of the Cup, this could become a tricky political issue during the 2014 presidential elections--or a potential boon, too.
7. One of the great potential legacies of the World Cup could be improvements to infrastructure. President Dilma Rousseff is heavily invested in focusing on infrastructure, though her bigger concern is infrastructure that aids long-term development, not the games (which for Brazilians is a good thing). But it's unclear what will happen in the next two years, with many projects already delayed. It seems possible that intracity transport could be finished in a number of cities. Airports across the country are undergoing renovations, and airport privatization has begun on three airports. But it's unclear if major airport reforms will be done before 2014, and a much-heralded bullet train between Rio and São Paulo has quietly been delayed until 2022.
6. The World Cup offers ripe opportunities for corruption. It happened during the Pan American Games in 2007, and it's already happening again with the World Cup. Overspending is the key issue, and it's been happening across the board. While Dilma's efforts to control corruption within her cabinet have offered hope, it's entirely possible that abuses are still happening from the local level all the way up to the federal level. The World Cup also has been an opportunity for abuses against favela communities located in areas slated for construction.
5. Brazil may have overextended itself by picking 12 host cities. It's not without good reason; since much of the country's big events are often concentrated in a few cities, it seemed more fair to spread the event throughout the country, giving less developed cities a chance at more investment and time in the spotlight. It's also a political opportunity for the chosen states and municipalities. But some of the smaller cities may really not be ready in time, and from a logistical point of view, it will be difficult for fans--even Brazilians--to attend games in multiple cities, especially cities like Manaus and Cuiabá. FIFA is aware of this and it seems possible it could cut one or two cities if they aren't ready in time, though it would be a big PR hazard.
4. FIFA and Brazil clearly have different expectations, at least in what's evident to the public. FIFA is a corporation that wants to make money and have a succesful event, and expects Brazil to live up to its legal obligations. Brazil also wants to use it as an opportunity to make money through investments and tourism, but also expects FIFA to play by its rules. In other words, both sides have unrealistic expectations about who gets to call the shots. Clearly, more compromise will be necessary, though neither side is happy about it.
3. Brazil must pass FIFA-approved legislation about the World Cup as a condition of hosting the Games. The so-called World Cup law has suffered delays for years, and problems with the bill have seen it stuck in the House of Representatives until now (another vote is expected next week). FIFA has made certain demands, including legalizing alcohol at soccer stadiums, only allowing FIFA-authorized sales of merchandise in and around stadiums, and making efforts to control piracy. Brazil, on the other hand, wants to ensure that discounted tickets are set aside for students, seniors, and other groups, something that FIFA has had to make compromises on. Overall, the most sensitive issue is if the bill violates Brazil's sovereignty, something that several politicians have complained about and an issue many Brazilians are sensitive to.
2. Brazilians are very sensitive to foreigner's perceptions of their country, and even more sensitive to outside criticism. One would assume that FIFA officials have realized this by now, and perhaps took advantage of this fact by hoping to embarrass and pressure the government with Valcke's comments last week. Still, it's not a very good tactic, and is only going to make the tense relationship even more acrimonious as the games draw closer. The international press has added fuel to the flames by constantly criticizing Brazil's preparations, and will continue to until the World Cup begins. FIFA officials should take note of Brazil's diplomatic techniques if they plan on better cooperation, and are going to have to accept the fact that whatever timelines were agreed upon will probably not happen, but that enough will be done in time to ensure the games can take place.
1. The World Cup is an incredibly important source of pride for Brazil. It represents Brazil's rise to power and its ascendance on the world stage, as well as celebrating its economic growth, reduction of poverty, and the resulting sense of optimism. It's an important part of the Brazil brand abroad, a stamp of approval from the international community. It's also a way to try to banish its demons; the last time the country hosted in 1950, it was also celebrating a new, post-war era, but lost to Uruguay in the last game, a devastating defeat still considered a national trauma. Pulling off a successful event with minimal conflict and scrutiny is just important to Brazil's sense of self-worth as trying to win the Cup. It's still unclear what the legacy of the games will be, but for both FIFA and Brazil, there's no turning back now.