In late May, the Brazilian Sports Ministry released a report detailing delays in infrastructure work intended for completion before the 2014 World Cup soccer championship. Fans may have to budget extra time to get to matches; 41 of 101 projects, including airport, transit and port improvements, are behind schedule or not yet under way, according to the report.
The soccer-mad host country open the 20th version of the tournament in São Paulo's Arena Corinthians June 12, 2014, and conclude with the championship match on July 13 when the last two teams standing from the field of 32 qualifiers meet at Rio’s Maracanã stadium. In 1950, the last time the country hosted the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) global championship, nearly 200,000 spectators saw Uruguay defeat the host country 2-1 in the finals. As part of negotiations with FIFA, Brazil is spending $500,000 to modernize the nation’s flagship football venue, reducing the capacity to 78,000, moving seats closer to the pitch and improving entrance and exit paths to allow a full house to leave the premises within eight minutes.
Although construction cost estimates for work at Maracanã have soared this year by 40% over earlier estimates, Brazilian sports officials are confident that the stadium—also the site of the 2016 Summer Olympic Games opening and closing ceremonies—will be ready two years from now before matches begin. They are also confident that 11 other stadiums—two completely new, the rest imploded and rebuilt onsite or refurbished—will be ready on time for the World Cup.
The country is attempting to leverage the World Cup and Olympics into overdue, ambitious infrastructure improvements, especially transportation work in its two largest cities, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.
Metropolitan São Paulo is in a state of perpetual gridlock as 20 million residents stress overburdened roads, rail and subway systems. Weekday usage estimates put at five million customers on buses, four million on the metro and two million on commuter trains. Four million cars clog the roads.
The city is scrambling to unplug bottlenecks on several fronts: adding three new subway lines and a monorail connector to Guaralhos International Airport and upgrading its bus fleet to run on cleaner, alternative fuels.
Rio is also taking similar steps, expanding its metro system and adding new bus rapid transit lines to connect different sections of the sprawling port’s dense core neighborhoods with high-growth rim neighborhoods. The transportation upgrades are part of a $9.15-billion modernization program that also includes improvements to favelas and wastewater treatment systems. Spread over the decade ending in 2020, much of the work is front-loaded before the 2016 Olympics.
The International Olympic Committee sent its evaluation committee for its annual three-day inspection early this month. IOC commission leader Nawal El Moutawakel said that although the city had made “great strides” in the past year, “there is a large volume of work that needs to be accomplished between now and 2016.”
Two years closer, the World Cup deadline is even more ominous. In May, FIFA President Sepp Blatter again reiterated his uneasiness that the Brazilians would not fulfill their commitments on time. FIFA General Secretary Jerome Valcke was more blunt, recommending a "kick up the backside" to jump-start lagging projects. Not surprisingly, his remarks fueled controversy in Brazilian media outlets.
President Dilma Rousseff signaled Brazil’s willingness to meet one of FIFA’s major demands by signing a an amendment that would temporarily lift a ban on beer sales in soccer stadiums. The measure would be in effect for the duration of the World Cup.
The other projects on tap may not flow so easily, although Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo told reporters that the country has dedicated more than $13 billion to spend on World Cup investments. He admits that government red tape and permitting requirements routinely stall capital projects. Despite this tradition, he remains confident that the work will be completed on schedule. “Nothing will be left undone due to these requirements,” he said.