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Brazil prepares to welcome the world, twice

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Dan Roan | 14:51 UK time, Sunday, 28 November 2010

Rio de Janeiro

It was obvious something was wrong when the Governor of Rio de Janeiro made a dash for the exit. Sergio Cabral was a special guest at the opening ceremony of Soccerex, the global business of football convention that had descended upon Rio and was based in a luxury hotel a few yards from the Copacabana.

Surrounded by aides and bodyguards, he had only been seated for a few minutes when suddenly - and without warning - he was swiftly ushered out of the auditorium and away, leaving organisers in disarray, chaos in his wake and our hopes of an interview dashed.

Later, the reason became clear. Rio was gripped by a state of emergency. The authorities' pacification programme across the city's notorious favelas had sparked a wave of retaliatory violence.

For years, gangs have enjoyed sovereignty over these unauthorised, sprawling shanty towns. Now, with the two biggest sporting shows on earth looming into view on the horizon, efforts to gain control of the slums and crack down on the city's no-go areas had intensified. But the drug lords were not going quietly.

Local news channels showed live footage of burning buses and military helicopters. They also carried news of 30 deaths, including a photographer and a young girl killed by a stray bullet. On Thursday night, as I travelled back to Rio's airport from the city centre, the tension was palpable. Smoke filled the sky. Taxi drivers refused to carry passengers. Armed police were everywhere.

This was not the image of Brazil that the Government would have wanted hundreds of football's wealthiest and most influential figures to witness.

In a city defined by inequality, where rich and poor live in stunning proximity, Soccerex got back down to business on Copacabana beach, minus the governor.

Inside the VIP lounge, England's 2018 World Cup bid international president David Dein brushed shoulders with former Fifa President Dr Joao Havelange. In the main conference hall, international stadium designers, kit manufacturers and security firms were vying for fresh business. Bid nations Qatar, Russia, Korea and Netherlands/Belgium had impressive stands, their campaigns for Fifa 's favour on Thursday in Zurich entering the final straight.

Outside on the beach, legendary players from across South America had been flown in to play a veterans' tournament. The annual jamboree of football's business community was recognition of Brazil's status as the focus of the sporting world for years to come. World Cup in 2014. Olympics in 2016. The opportunity to provide further impetus to an already giant economy appeared obvious. Brazil's tourism minister spoke proudly of forecasts that the numbers of visitors to the country would double from next year.

But then came the reminder that not all in Brazil is perfect.

Danny Jordaan faced similar concerns in the build-up to South Africa 2010, a tournament he helped to ensure passed off peacefully despite the dire predictions of some. He issued the following warning: "Brazil must be the envy of the sporting world holding both events, but you can't have a celebratory event without it being safe.

"All of the components of organisation have to be wrapped in a security plan - and this must integrate all the components and get levels of personnel up. When there's a physical presence on the streets, it makes people feel safe. I acknowledge there are challenges, though, and there's some way to go."

The message could not have been clearer: Get a grip or risk way fewer visitors

A few paces from the thousands of sun worshippers on a packed Flamengo beach is a small clue as to why Brazil has, for decades, been so bountiful in the production of raw, footballing talent.

Pitches stretch for as far as the eye can see. Small-sided pitches. Places where touch, technique and skill - not strength and pace - are rewarded. Each one is full with children. All are free. Those who cannot find space to play wait patiently outside, watching, studying, learning. The pitches are in use almost 24 hours a day. Even in the early hours, when the doormen, waiters and kitchen staff of the nearby district of Ipanema engage in 4am kick-abouts on a nightly basis once their shifts end.

Some of the teenagers wear out-of-date strips representing the giants of the domestic championship; Flamengo and Fluminense of Rio de Janeiro, Corinthians and Palmeiras of Sao Paolo, Internacional, and Santos. Many are barefoot. But hope and inspiration accompanies every kick of the ball.

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Dan Roan reports from Rio on the challenges the city and the rest of Brazil face

Three-and-a-half years into the future can seem like a lifetime at that age but the young hopefuls of the Flamengo beach pitches already have their hearts set on 2014 and the first World Cup in the spiritual home of football since 1950.

Here in a country where star players are produced, selected, sold on to Europe and then replaced with remarkable speed and regularity, many dream of playing in the finals. Others display surprising maturity as they talk of their expectation that the event will spark much-needed investment in the city's infrastructure, hospitals and sports facilities.

Rio's iconic Sugar Loaf mountain had been hired by Soccerex to host a lavish ceremony honouring Brazil's 1970 World Cup-winning team.

Despite being in pain from an old knee injury that needs an operation, the legendary former captain Carlos Alberto dealt patiently with the requests for autographs and photographs. Hosting the World Cup again will, he said, be "a dream for us". He added: "We lack so many things here; we need more airports, better infrastructure, decent roads. It will force the Government to help the people."

His words ring true in nearby Cantagolo, one of the thousand favelas within Rio. Perched precariously on the steep slopes of a hill, this impoverished community has benefitted from some of the £1bn of investment being pumped into Rio as Brazil looks to upgrade before the world comes to visit.

A new public elevator has been opened, allowing residents to access their homes 300ft above the street quickly, freely and safely. Cantagolo has been successfully pacified, crime is down and tourism has been introduced, with guided tours around the slum.

This is merely scratching the surface, of course, and one suspects that those favelas closest to the city centre, the ones most starkly in view of the tourists, will be those most likely to receive such assistance. But it's an encouraging start.

A few miles away, the Maracana undergoes a transformation. This vast arena, a gigantic bowl of a stadium, is being prepared to stage both the World Cup final in 2014 and the opening ceremony of the Olympics two years later. The entire lower tier of the gigantic stands have been reduced to rubble but work is on time. Elsewhere, the progress report is less encouraging.

In Sao Paolo, there's gridlock. Above the infamous traffic jams, helicopters criss-cross the skies, the preferred mode of transport of the rich elite in South America's biggest city. It's a vivid illustration of the strain the country's outdated infrastructure is under.

At a discreet training ground belonging to Palmeiras, Sao Paolo manager Luiz Felipe Scolari tells me of his concerns. "We need to start," he grumbles. "Time is running out. We only have three-and-a-half years and if we do not start work there will be problems." Many agree with him, including Fifa, which is known to be unsettled by Brazil's lack of progress. Winning the right to stage the event back in 2003 effectively uncontested appears to have resulted in a lack of urgency over the last seven years.

Towards the south-west of the city lies the Morumbi stadium, home of Sao Paolo. The antiquated ground has now been rejected by Fifa as a World Cup venue after years of foot-dragging and a brand new venue must be built from scratch on the other side of the city in partnership with the Corinthians club . Elsewhere, stadia construction and improvements are proving a huge drain on public finances. Money many believe would be better spent on alleviating the widespread poverty throughout the country.

The lack of private funding tells a story. Companies do not believe that once the World Cup is over, the stadia will be full enough to make money. It seems a surprise in football-mad Brazil but the average attendances for matches in the Brazilian national championship are a paltry 14,000, largely down to high ticket prices.

Elephants are not known to be native to Brazil but it seems the white breed could soon be. An official report by a federal finance watchdog has warned that the host stadia in Brasilia, Cuiaba, Manaus and Natal are all at risk of losing money following the 2014 tournament, with all four locations lacking a significant enough football tradition.

Other challenges face the teams who qualify for the tournament. In a country the size of a continent, the equatorial venues in the north, where temperatures stay hot throughout the year, will be very different from the colder south, where temperatures could be freezing. Transporting squads and their fans around Brazil once the knockout rounds are complete will not be simple.

Back at Soccerex, suddenly there was a commotion as light bulbs flashed. Amid a crowd, the undisputed boy prince of Brazilian football, Neymar, even more popular since staying at Santos and rejecting Chelsea's advances this summer, had made a surprise appearance.

Flanked by his father and agent, the teenager seemed unconcerned by the attention but the scene served to demonstrate the kind of burden Brazil's players will be under come 2014. Surely no team will ever have played under more pressure.

Some 64 years after they clutched defeat from the jaws of victory against Uruguay when winning their own world Cup seemed a formality, the five-time winners will have a chance to exorcise the demons of 1950. Mano Menezes is rebuilding his side around the youthful talents of Neymar, Ganso, Pato and Thiago Silva. Brazil simply have to win their own World Cup. But not just on the pitch. Off it as well.


  • Comment number 1.

    Fascinating fact about the average attendances in the Brazilian Championship being only 14,000 due to ticket prices. Are they the same in the Copa Libertadores?

    Sad about The Morumbi stadium, home of Sao Paolo being rejected - couldn't the historic ground be upgraded in keeping with it's style? Are Fifa forcing Sao Paolo to forgo their history by moving them and Corinthians into one of those new 'out of a box sanitised' stadium..if so could you imagine the same scenario in them (Fifa) rejecting somewhere like Anfield? I know Fifa's in the game of making money and trying to move the game forward, but it's sad when the past is so easily discarded and
    all we're left with are stadia around the world that all look and feel the same.

    Good luck to Brazil though..and good luck to England on Thursday!

  • Comment number 2.

    Manaus, Brasilia and Cuiaba are venues that will have white elephants because they were chosen by political criteria alone. Belem, which is in the same area of Manaus, and Goiania, in the same area of Brasilia and Cuiaba, have traditional teams that attract regular crowds, but their political leaders didn't had a good relationship with Ricardo Teixeira, the shamessly corrupt head of the Brazilian Football Confederation.

    #1- Crowds in Brazil aren't that big regularly for a variety of reasons, including, besides ticket prices, violence, lack of comfort in nearly all and transportation in most stadiums, as well cultural ones: Brazilians tend to buy tickets only in the matchday, so if the team is doing poorly or there are bad weather conditions, crowds tend to be smaller.

  • Comment number 3.

    'pitches stretch for as far as the eye can see...'

    And there is one of the key reasons why English technique lacks so far behind. Faced with 'no ball games' signs in residential areas, what are our kids supposed to do with no free to access spaces in their residential locations.

    Football has been lifted from being a cheap sport that can be improvisational and played anywhere anytime, to a delivery system of private providers for five a-side games (and £60 please). Until someone has the foresight to get many, many more MUGAs (Multi Use Games Areas) into residential locations what should we expect? The only place left to play for these young kids is on a Sunday in organised teams - freezing cold on full sized grass pitches & lumping it long.

    If England win the bid for WC2018 what kind of a national team will we have by then, I wonder..?

  • Comment number 4.

    A colossal amount of work for Brazil to do in a short space of time: there's real danger that there could be a repeat of the New Delhi Commonwealth Games. I understood that one of the main criteria for selecting a country to host a World Cup was that the new stadia would serve a genuine purpose after the event has finished: it seems from this report that this isn't the case at all. One of the other criteria, the safety of visitors to the tournament, doesn't seem to have been addressed either. FIFA continues to prevaricate and confuse us all.

    Serious Football

  • Comment number 5.

    A World Cup in Brazil has the potential to be an amazing event. I hope the huge amount of work that needs to be done in the next 3 years is completed on time. The point the author infers about winning the World Cup uncontested leading to complacency is quite an interesting one. Like with South Africa though I'm sure all of the issues will be sorted before it starts. Therse things seem to have a habit of coming together. Even the Commonwealth Games came good in the end.

  • Comment number 6.

    RE #3
    Every town may not have a cinema or a shopping mall, but it does have a free covered 5-a-side football pitch. Also I have never in all my years living here seen a sign saying ´no ball games´( not that anyone would pay any attention to it).
    Even if they don´t have a ball, they play. I can remember watching last year a boy about 8 years old beautifly controlling, kicking and balancing ...with his bare feet ..a 500ml coke bottle. If he can do that barefoot what will he be able to do with a ball and some boots!

    Brasil will be ready have no doubt about that is just far too important to them to let it fail.

  • Comment number 7.

    @6 - I wish I was lost in Brasil.

    I have a Brazilian friend who has now moved back to Sao Paulo, but my young family means I will have no time or cash to even think about making it to WC2014. I am sure, though, that it will be a beautiful thing, especially if Menezes can bring the dance back to the national team. WC2014 will be sensational and eagerly awaited.

    People here in England like to think that by bringing major football tournements to England and Britain football is coming home. That is sentamental tosh. Football is not about place. It is about a feeling. Everyone loves Brazil for the flair, vitality and exhuberance it has brought to the game.

    In this World Cup Venue decision week, the one legacy I am hoping for here is that futebol de salao might take hold. Perhaps then, in ten to twenty years, we might see some players who can make us smile - not like the mechanical mercenary cowards who went to Bloemfontein last summer. There is only Gerrard who appears to have shown any remorse for the performances. But then, he is always a miserable sod, anyway...


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