Bills rise as clock ticks down for Brazil
Along with the other candidates to host the World Cup in 2018, England had to select its host cities and stadiums well in advance. And so earlier this month, the Fifa inspection committee could ride the tube, visit the venues, talk to officials and end up with a firm idea of what they will be getting if England gets the nod.
It is unfortunate that the 2014 hosts did not have to go through a similar process.
Brazil were awarded the next World Cup via a short-lived rotation policy which was, in practice, simply a means devised to help Sepp Blatter deliver on a promise to take the tournament to South Africa.
In March 2003, Blatter decreed that South America's turn would come in 2014 and a few days later the South American Confederation announced that Brazil was its only candidate and although Colombia briefly broke ranks, they had no serious expectations of success.
Brazil, then, has known for over seven years that the circus would be coming to town and Fifa's official announcement in October 2007 only confirmed the obvious.
But the host cities had not even been chosen - that only happened last May, with the decisions taken by Fifa rather than, as usual, by the local organisers - and it was only last Friday that Sao Paulo, the country's biggest city, finally decided which stadium it would use.
Taking so long to sort out such basic issues comes across as gross incompetence.
Some of this is the product of political in-fighting, the projected new stadium of Corinthians replacing that of Sao Paulo FC, for example; some results from the complications of organising an event in a country the size of a continent and some might just be the bungling of inept administrators.
But I also wonder how much of this has taken place on purpose. All these delays have created a need for urgency. The prestige of the country is on the line, and so the government steps in to pay for things which were not supposed to be its responsibility - such as stadiums.
The original idea - or maybe the early sales pitch - was that private investors would take care of the stadium work but that has evaporated.
Of the 12 stadiums to be used in the tournament, only three are owned by clubs. The other nine belong to local governments, which will have to take out loans from the state-owned development bank to carry out the necessary work.
Workman start shifting seats round the legendary Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro Photo: Getty Images
Indeed, even one of the private stadiums, Atletico Paranaense in Curitiba, is set to be partly financed by this route. For the vast majority of stadium work, then, the final bill will be presented to the taxpayer.
And what will Brazil's hard pushed tax payer receive in return? The likely answer is that in the climate of urgency the citizen runs the risk of paying more than he/she should, and receiving less.
Money will be thrown at Brazil's airport infra-structure, vital for the smooth running of the World Cup, but an area of even greater importance to Brazilian society may find itself being forced down the agenda.
South Africa perhaps showed that deficiencies in urban public transport are not an insurmountable problem for the running of a World Cup. It is a special event - people turn up hours early to get the most from the experience, and kick-off times are different from domestic games.
In Brazil, the matches are likely to kick off in the afternoon, time zone differences sparing the fan the ordeal of battling though the rush hour. Investments in public transport could help millions who go through this dreary experience every day, standing on buses for over two hours on their way to and from work.
Improving this situation is one of the biggest benefits the World Cup could bring Brazil. But with all the delays, time constraints are already causing cutbacks and in some cities plans to build or extend underground lines are already being scrapped in favour of cheaper, easier to implement bus-based solutions.
But if underground lines might not be built, the stadiums must be - or expensively patched up in the case of some of the older grounds. Here too, there are problems.
It is unclear how some of the stadiums will be viable after the tournament - Cuiaba and Manaus are obvious examples - and in the heartlands of the Brazilian game, some of the patch-up proposals will retain the existing structure, with a large gap between the fans and the pitch.
This is unsatisfactory both in terms of the stadium experience, and the TV images. No one is currently building stadiums like this. Some of the 2014 stadiums run the risk of being obsolete before the work has even begun - at the taxpayers' expense.
The Vivaldo Lima stadium in in Manaus is being demolished and rebuilt ahead of the tournament Photo: Reuters
Two quick points; firstly, I have every confidence that Brazil can and will deliver an excellent World Cup, enjoyed hugely by the thousands who visit and the billions who watch on TV.
Secondly, it is only right and proper that the tournament be held in the developing world.
But the current formula is surely in need of a rethink. Fifa make money from the sale of the TV rights - and to be fair, some of this is distributed around football associations all around the planet.
It does seem, though, that too much of the financial burden for staging the tournament is being pushed towards a government that has plenty of more pressing priorities. Should public money really be used so that the Maracana can be reconstructed in such a way that moves the executive boxes from the worst place in the stadium to the best?
Comments on the piece in the space provided. Questions on South American football to email@example.com, and I'll pick out a couple for next week.
From last week's postbag:
Q) How good is Botafogo's Jobson?
A) He's my new toy! A 22-year-old striker of wonderful talent. He's a defender's nightmare because he can go either way, has close control on both feet, a burst of acceleration and a stocky frame. He has a huge future, providing he can cope with everything that comes his way. He's had one warning - a six-month ban for testing positive for crack.
Q) Some businessmen are purchasing clubs in Europe and spending tons of money signing players. Don't you think it would be better in terms of business to purchase a Brazilian club and sell youngsters to Europe instead? I know that Brazilian clubs are not companies, but if big money came around, I think people would find a way to change the club's by-laws
A) You mentioned yourself the legal problem - the major Brazilian clubs can't be bought in this way. Another problem - why bother? If the aim is to make money selling players to Europe there's no need to go to all the trouble of taking on a loss making concern with a huge debt.
Instead, start your own small club to produce players - companies are doing this already - keep a share of the players' registrations, loan them to a big club to gain visibility and then count your share of the transfer fee when he is sold abroad. In the last few years this has been a big growth area.