Brazil set for Confed Cup despite difficulties

Jun 10, 2013, 3:32 PM EDT
In this photo taken June 2, 2013, fans celebrate after Brazil scored against England during a friendly soccer game at the Maracana stadium, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The Confederations Cup will be a test both on and off the field for Brazil. The country is trying to show that it can build stadiums and complete infrastructure projects in time for the 2014 World Cup, and the national team will try to show that is has the potential to contend for its sixth world title.
(AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

SAO PAULO (AP) — Even if the Confederations Cup goes off without a hitch, the troubled preparations for the tournament have turned up the pressure on Brazil for the year ahead.

The World Cup warm-up tournament will begin as scheduled on Saturday, but only after Brazil drew complaints from FIFA and local critics for delays and cost overruns.

Few infrastructure projects were completed and the nation's capacity to host the tournament was put in doubt several times. Ticket sales and the volunteer program were considered a success, but even the official musical instrument created by local organizers to help fans cheer turned out to be a failure.

If there is one thing Brazil can say it learned for the 2014 World Cup, it's that it can't make the same mistakes it did in preparing for the Confederations Cup. FIFA has been saying loud and clear that it will not tolerate the same problems ahead of soccer's main event next year.

"The Confederations Cup is a major tournament and it has really grown into a football spectacle," FIFA spokesman Walter De Gregorio said. "It also represents a great opportunity to fine-tune the preparations for next year, when a global audience will be coming for the World Cup. It's a major operational test for us, we will go through all the operations in a full tournament, which is good for next year."

Brazil was picked as World Cup host in 2007, knowing it would need to build stadiums and improve infrastructure across the country. But those remain the greatest problems as the Confederations Cup gets set to kick off.

Only two of the six Confederations Cup stadiums were ready by the December deadline originally established by FIFA, and subsequent deadlines also were missed by some of the venues. Because of construction delays, the cities of Salvador and Recife nearly were dropped from the tournament, winning approval just before the tournament's draw last year.

FIFA usually wants venues to go through at least three test events, but it had to make an exception in Brazil because of all the delays. FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke said that soccer's governing body would accept two events in each of the venues, but in the end only one full test event happened in some of the stadiums.

That was the case in Brasilia, host of the opener on June 15, and in Rio de Janeiro, home of the final at the Maracana Stadium on June 30. The Brasilia stadium missed three deadlines, while Maracana ran the risk of not hosting a single full test event after a judge ordered the cancellation of Brazil's friendly against England on June 2 because the venue was allegedly unsafe. The decision was eventually reversed.

"For us, the Confederations Cup is not just a way to test for the World Cup in style," said Ricardo Trade, the CEO of Brazil's local organizing committee. "Our goal is to deliver everything at a level that will be similar to what we will have during the World Cup next year."

But it's clear that, at many of the venues, there will be a lot of unfinished work, as not all infrastructure projects have been finalized. Brazil just installed 4G networks at the six Confederations Cup cities, but not even the 3G network had been working properly in most of the test events so far.

Brazil's version of the vuvuzela, the caxirola — a maraca-like instrument created for the World Cup and approved by FIFA — made headlines for the wrong reasons after fans upset with their team's loss threw the small green-and-yellow instrument onto the field at one of the test events, prompting local authorities to ban it from stadiums for the Confederations Cup because of "security reasons."

Despite FIFA's repeated warnings that it won't allow preparations get so far behind for the World Cup, it's not clear that Brazil will be able to comply. Local organizers recently said they are facing challenges to meet the December deadline for the stadium that will host the tournament's opening match in Sao Paulo.

Developers initially said it could be March before the venue is completed, just three months before the World Cup, forcing FIFA to go to local organizers and get them to move the timetable forward.

"Having the World Cup stadiums ready in December is crucial so there is enough time to get the facilities ready for the tournament," De Gregorio said. "We are working close with the federal government, the local organizing committee and the host cities to ensure that everything is ready. Everyone involved is committed to deliver the stadiums in December because they know the importance of the tournament."

In addition to being delayed, most of the stadiums also cost more than originally planned. The Maracana again is an example, with its renovation — the second in less than 10 years — costing nearly $600 million despite an initial estimate of $350 million.

The citizens of Rio de Janeiro paid most of that cost, even though former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said in 2007 that the private sector would finance most of the World Cup stadiums. That turned out to be far from the truth, as many of the venues were built or renovated with public funds involved, either through government loans or tax breaks.

Many argue that fans also are paying a high cost for the changes brought on by the Confederations Cup and the World Cup. With the addition of numbered seating to the stadiums and soaring ticket prices, some of the more traditional Brazilian fans may end up being pushed away, giving way to those with more money but less passion about the sport.

Although ticket sales have been a success, easily surpassing the numbers for the 2009 Confederations Cup in South Africa, fans who bought the tickets faced difficulties picking them up when they started being distributed. There were many complaints across the country as it took up two hours to collect tickets even though purchasers were allowed to make appointments to collect them.

The number of volunteers who applied to work in the Confederations Cup and the World Cup also was a record, reaching more than 130,000 applicants, nearly double of those who applied for the tournament in South Africa.

Brazil is hoping it will all go well once the Confederations Cup starts, which will certainly move the spotlight away from the pre-tournament mistakes. FIFA, meanwhile, hopes the lessons will be learned.

"The only certainty we have is that not all the work will get done as scheduled and that we will have this World Cup here with an absurd cost to the people of Brazil," said congressman Romario, a former Brazil striker who has been of the loudest critics of his country's preparations.


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