With one month to go before the FIFA World Cup opens in Brazil, two new stadiums still haven't had a full dress rehearsal, security concerns are mounting, and there are still big questions of how airports will handle the crush of traveling fans.
Brazil got off to a slow start in its World Cup preparations and this country where soccer is king has been playing catch-up ever since. Three of the arenas -- Corinthians in Sao Paulo, Baixada in Curitiba and Cuiaba's Pantanal stadium, where a worker was electrocuted and died Thursday -- have cut completion times precariously short.
As the countdown begins for the opening match -- Brazil vs. Croatia in Sao Paulo on June 12 -- keeping potential violence in check also is shaping up as a major concern in some of the 12 World Cup host cities.
Even though FIFA, the international soccer governing organization, initially wanted work on all arenas completed by the end of last year, workers still were scurrying around last week at the three laggard stadiums.
The first full test event at the privately owned Curitiba stadium, which has been plagued by a recent workers' strike and financing problems, is scheduled this Tuesday. The only full-capacity rehearsal at the new Sao Paulo arena, where three workers have died in construction accidents, is set for next Sunday.
During a press briefing in Zurich on Thursday, FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke said for the Sao Paulo opener "we need to have a level of operation which is perfect."
He said he's also concerned about the fan experience. "I think the biggest challenges will be for them," Valcke said. Not only will they find high prices in major cities, but they could face travel delays in a continent-sized country with limited transportation options.
Valcke leaves for Brazil Sundayto oversee final Cup preparations.
Skepticism about readiness is normal before any World Cup, said Delia Fischer, FIFA chief of media and communications.
Before the 2010 Cup in South Africa, she said, there also were concerns that stadiums wouldn't be ready, and disparaging remarks that the event would be "the World Cup of Crime,'' she said. "At the end, it was a great World Cup."
But security concerns persist in Brazil, especially in Rio de Janeiro, where a wave of crime prompted state police to put an extra 2,000 police on the streets Monday, far sooner than they had expected to be deployed for World Cup duty.
An analysis by O Globo newspaper showed that muggings around Rio's Maracanã stadium -- where the World Cup final will be played -- had doubled in March, compared to the same period last year.
Protesters, who took to the streets last year during the Confederations Cup, also are expected to be out in force during the World Cup, protesting everything from the government's World Cup outlay of $11.6 billion -- to poor transportation and social services.
During the Confederations Cup, considered a tune-up for the World Cup, "all our planning was tested to the limit,'' said Deputy Sports Minister Luis Fernandes, "and I think we passed that test. In general, I am very confident.
"We are absolutely sure the World Cup is very good for Brazil,'' he said.
Fernandes said the federal government has managed to stay below its World Cup investment ceiling of 33 billion reais (around $14.9 billion) -- even though it has been accused of having to pick up cost over-runs on stadiums. "That perception is incorrect,'' he said, "although I know it is widespread."
However, the Associated Press reported on Monday that the cost of the Mane Garrincha stadium in Brasilia has almost tripled to $900 million, and government auditors examining alleged price-gouging suspect that one-third of the high cost may be due to overpricing of materials.
Other potential security challenges are a recent land occupation in Sao Paulo, where as many as 5,000 people are squatting within sight of the new Corinthians stadium, and continuing violence in some Rio shantytowns that are in the process of being "pacified' by security forces.
The delay in delivering stadiums also hasn't helped security preparations. "It's not easy to make something secure when it's not done,'' said Frank Holder, chairman for Latin America of FTI Consulting, a global business advisory firm.
State police will handle security, but the military could be called in if President Dilma Rousseff requests it. During the Cup, the military's main role will be behind-the-scenes -- securing water supplies and public utilities, airports, seaports and the stadiums. Anti-terrorist duties also fall to the military.
In Rio de Janeiro, a state-of-the-art command center staffed by representatives from 30 city departments will handle emergency response management. IBM worked with the city to develop the center and also supplied the smart technology for 28 rolling security centers housed in large trucks that will be used in the host cities.
The mobile centers, which are equipped with sophisticated surveillance and analysis systems, will be used to coordinate public safety forces and can be easily moved as situations develop. They come in two models: an eight-person and 16-person version.
They'll be distributed among Brazil's 26 states and federal district after the World Cup is over, said Antonio Dias, IBM's chief executive in Brazil. The trucks weren't specifically built for the soccer tournament, he said, "but for sure they will help during World Cup."
There also could be bottlenecks at airports -- some that have needed to be updated for decades -- as 600,000 international fans, 3 million Brazilians and teams and trainers from 32 countries move around South America's largest country.
"That's one of the concerns," conceded Fernandes. "We need to improve operations of our airports. It's an ongoing improvement project."
Brazil has embarked on an ambitious program to update its airports. It has 30 airport projects underway and has granted concessions to private operators at three. But all the upgrades promised for World Cup won't be completed.
The daily newspaper Folha de São Paulo has reported that a 28-gate, $900.3-million terminal at Viracopos International Airport in the state of Sao Paulo that was supposed to be delivered this Sunday won't be fully operational for the World Cup. Seven national teams plan to use the airport during the Cup as their base for domestic flights.
Meanwhile, new polished granite floors made from local stone and spacious new arrivals and departures areas have been finished at Eduardo Gomes International Airport in Manaus. Officials say they hope to complete the entire project by late May.
But renovations at the Rio and Salvador airports won't be ready, and the Belo Horizonte airport plans to use a temporary terminal to handle World Cup travelers.
Fans arriving in Brasilia -- where seven matches, including the semifinal, are scheduled -- will find a new glass-walled south terminal at the international airport. But another new airport terminal in Brasilia isn't expected to be ready for the matches.
Despite renovation delays, Infraero, Brazil's national airport authority, says the airports should have enough capacity to serve World Cup passengers. Immigration, customs and other staffing at the 21 terminals that will be in use during the Cup will be increased by 209 percent, according to Infraero.
Domestic airlines will be adding hundreds of new flights to accommodate Cup traffic and those route changes could be "quite disruptive" to aviation traffic and airports that may not have completed their upgrades, according to a Moody's Investors Service report on the World Cup.
Business travel is expected to decline during the Cup, and airlines also have adjusted their flights to coincide with match schedules.
TAM Airlines, for example, has added more than 750 new flights within Brazil from June 10 to July 15. TAM and LAN Airlines, which are part of the LATAM group, also will be adding more than 300 international flights.
Many workers will take a day off and there will be school holidays on game days in the host cities, which should ease traffic somewhat. But gridlock may still be a daily hassle in some.
"If large crowds are having difficulty moving from Point A to Point B and then you mix in the potential for flash mobs of demonstrations, that's a dangerous cocktail for security forces," said Holder.
Now it seems Brazilian authorities also have one more thing to worry about: potential fan violence. After a recent Brazilian league match in Recife -- one of the host cities -- brawling gangs ripped out toilets in the stadium and a man died after being hit by a toilet bowl thrown from the upper deck of the arena
Rousseff, who has promised a "Cup of Cups" in Brazil, took to Twitter to express her disgust at violence in soccer arenas. "Football stadiums are the scene of joy and passion. We must all unite for peace in stadiums,'' she said in her social media posting.
Ironically, one of Brazil's preparation problems may have been that it was overly ambitious.
Hosting the World Cup, as well as the Summer Olympics two years from now in Rio, was a giant green light for Brazil to push forward on projects that officials say will be used long after FIFA has packed up its soccer balls and gone home.
Brazil has not only renovated five arenas and built another seven, but has been tasked with modernizing airports and public transit systems as well as upgrading public security, IT and telecom systems and improving public security.
In Cuiaba, for example, there are 57 infrastructure projects under way. But only three or four of them are essential for holding a World Cup, said Fischer. Among the projects that won't be finished until well after the World Cup is a 13-mile light rail system that would have helped soccer fans get around.
"Do you think South Africa solved all its problems before the World Cup?" asked Roberio Braga, secretary of culture for Amazonas, of which the capital, Manaus, is a host city. "But don't you think World Cup helped South Africa improve in some areas?"
"Some of the World Cup cities are seeing a great transformation in infrastructure,'' he said. "Do you think we would be getting a new airport in the middle of the jungle without the World Cup? We're thinking not only about the costs. These are investments."
Brazil also has invested in its people. A year ago, for example, the Manaus city hall began an English training program for 600 health-care and tourism workers, traffic cops and first responders. Teams from both the U.S. and England have games in Manaus.
At the Adolpho Lisboa Municipal Market, 138 workers have received English training and another 75 started classes March 15. Pocket fliers with essential English phrases also are being distributed.
"I think the most important thing about this World Cup is training people in another language and then engaging with people from around the world," said Isabel Olmos, of the Municipal School of Public Service in Manaus.
But helpful, English-speaking Brazilians will only go so far in appeasing fans if they're frustrated because they're stuck in traffic. To add to the transportation uncertainty, bus drivers in Rio went on strike Thursday and 300 buses were vandalized.
All the host cities have developed transit plans they hope will get soccer enthusiasts to the stadiums on time.
In Manaus, for example, all main arteries between downtown and the Arena da Amazonia will be blue-marked, bus-only lanes on game days and the streets near the stadium will be closed to private cars. The bus lanes are designed to speed fans to a platform right in front of the stadium.
In Rio, completion of the TransCarioca bus rapid transit route, which links the international airport to beachside Barra da Tijuca, should help. City officials plan to inaugurate the route in early June and say it will be fully operational by the start of the Cup.
As the days until the first World Cup kick-off shorten, Brazil also faces another pressure: high expectations for its national team.
"We're in our home and we have an obligation to win at home,'' says Roque Nobre, who runs a news kiosk in downtown Manaus.
He gives Brazil -- a five-time World Cup champion -- an 80 percent chance of capturing another trophy. "We're very optimistic; Brazil has the best players in the world," he says. "Brazil has to put on a show."
©2014 The Miami Herald
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