Brazil: Will it be ready for the World Cup?

By Mark Broad
Economics reporter, BBC News

media captionThe BBC's economics editor Stephanie Flanders reports from Sao Paulo on preparations for the 2014 World Cup

"Mark of the first kick", says the sign in the middle of a large mound of orange earth on the outskirts of Sao Paulo.

In less than three years' time, after a rousing opening ceremony, the 2014 World Cup will kick off from this exact point in a new 65,000-seat stadium.

That is the theory, anyway.

At the moment, it is a challenge to keep your balance on the hill where the sign stands - and the same uncertainty seems to pervade Brazil's preparations for the tournament.

Many of the stadiums are behind schedule and over-budget, and pressure is mounting to put things back on track.

After months of quiet grumbling from international football's governing body, Fifa, last month the organisation's general secretary, Jerome Valcke, said: "It's amazing that Brazil is already very late. They are proving how difficult it is to hold a World Cup in Brazil, just as it was in South Africa."

The rising price of building materials, costly changes demanded by Fifa and delays have left an air of uncertainty over the project.

Rising wage inflation is also causing problems. Earlier this month, workers at the stadium in Belo Horizonte walked out, demanding higher wages and improved conditions.

But the operations director for the new Corinthians stadium in Sao Paulo, Federico Barbosa, appears relaxed as he surveys the diggers scraping away at the hillside on the site.

image captionWork continues on the Maracana stadium 24 hours a day

Extra resources

Work on the site began about a month ago, but they have already dug away much of the earth to start laying the foundations of the stadium.

"As the work goes on, we will need extra resources. Eventually we will have 2,000 people working on the site," says Mr Barbosa.

"It's going to be a challenge to get the work done, as we will have to work through the rainy season. But we... expect to have it finished by December 2013, two months ahead of Fifa's deadline."

But the project is already behind schedule and will not be ready for the 2013 Confederations Cup, which is being used as test event for the World Cup.

There have also been concerns of the cost of the project, with the Brazilian sports minister calling on the developers, Odebrecht, to cut the budget by 20%.

There are more than 20 men milling around the pitch at the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro. But there is not a ball in sight.

The teams of workers are accompanied by four huge diggers and a fleet of lorries ferrying soil out of the stadium. To keep the project on schedule, work continues 24 hours a day.

The Maracana was redeveloped in 2007 for the Pan-American Games, but Fifa told the organising committee it had failed to meet World Cup regulations.

The man who seems to hold the weight of the stadium on his back is head of construction Icaro Moreno. With a pencil tucked behind his ear, he says: "We had to knock down 70% of the stands due to Fifa requirements.

"They demanded that the stands were steeper in profile and that there were no blind spots for spectators.

"We then had to redesign the roof after we found that it was unsafe.

image captionBrazilian football great Carlos Alberto says: "Don’t worry, we’re going to be ready before the World Cup"

"We have also had to demolish the upper and lower tiers as well, but we are now on schedule and we expect to finish the work by December 2012."

Struggling airports

One of the big challenges for Brazil is to transport the spectators between the 12 host cities across the country.

The burgeoning middle class in the country has been taking to the air in ever increasing numbers. The number of internal flights has risen by 80 million in the past five years and the same increase is predicted by 2014.

The government is selling shares in the state operator, Infraero. It hopes the cash injection will speed work to be completed in nine of the airports.

"Sao Paulo is an international airport but it has only two terminals but has a population of over 20 million people - it's ridiculously badly served," says HSBC bank chief economist for Latin America, Andre Loes.

But despite all the concerns about the speed of the preparations for the World Cup, Mr Loes says it will act as catalyst for Brazil's greater infrastructure development.

"The World Cup and the Olympics will force us to have major projects ready on time. The tough thing will be to make sure it does not have any inflationary effects."

Spectacular goal

"When people meet me in the street they still call me captain," says Carlos Alberto, the leader of Brazil's World Cup winning side in 1970.

Surrounded by pictures of him scoring a spectacular goal in the final of the tournament, Mr Alberto is sanguine about all the concerns.

"This is the Brazilian style. Fifa always come to Brazil, and they go to look at stadiums and ask what's going on, and we say, 'Don't worry, we're going to be ready before the World Cup,'" he says.

Brazilians have always had their own style on the pitch and it seems that is the same for their preparations for the World Cup.

After all, they have already won the tournament five times. Most people in Brazil believe it will not be beyond them to host it in 2014.