The FIFA World Cup will happen in Brazil in 2014. There can be no question that there is an intense local interest in Brazilian participation in the World Cup tournament and the only time in the past when the games were in Brazil was back in 1950. The World Cup was not as big a deal then; the tournament invited 16 teams instead of 32 and even so, three teams withdrew prior to playing a single game. During that tournament in 1950, all of the games were played in coastal cities with reasonable transportation access.
The 2014 tournament will include 32 teams and the Brazilian proposal to acquire the right to stage the tournament said that the games would happen in 12 cities that would encompass the whole of the country. Great idea; when the tournament was in the US, there were games in NY and in LA and – - you get the idea. One minor difference is that Brazil has about the same land footprint as the US but does not have the same transportation infrastructure. According to the CIA World Factbook – - available at www.cia.gov – - Brazil has 1.75 million kilometers of roads; according to that same source, only 96.4 thousand kilometers of roads are paved. That means 94.5% of the roads in the country are unpaved.
I realize that teams and fans will transport themselves among the venues by something other than buses; nonetheless, those data are indicative of potential difficulties. And some FIFA officials are starting to get antsy. The Brazilian Sports Ministry reported to FIFA in May that only 5% of the infrastructure projects associated with hosting the tournament have been done and some have not yet begun. Such projects include improvements to ports and runway extensions to airports and building new stadiums and refurbishing existing stadiums. Those are not exactly minor details…
The Brazilian Sports Minister is not panicking just yet. He told the LA Times:
“There are no major obstacles in addition to those that are normally faced with organizing an event of this size and importance. Brazil has completed feats that are far more complex than organizing a World Cup.”
In a sense, he is probably correct. Brazil is a developed country that should be able to absorb the tourist influx and the media focus of the World Cup. Moreover, large cities in Brazil are of sufficient size that they may hardly notice the increased crowds. However, the stadium venues are a different matter…
The plans call for two new stadiums to go up and for ten other stadiums to receive major renovations. Some FIFA officials are concerned that one or more of them will not be available in 2014. The Sports Ministry and the Brazilian government as a whole also have to deal with the fact that two soccer legends from Brazil, Pele and Romario, are both critical of the pace of the improvements. Romario is now a Brazilian Congressman and he has suggested that things are purposely falling behind schedule in order to create an emergency situation, which would then allow the Sports Ministry to spend money without a bidding process and transparency.
If you think this sounds like a fun situation, recall that the Olympics will happen in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. In a sense, this kerfuffle is probably only a dress rehearsal for the maelstrom that will surround the Olympics’ preparations.
As a side issue to the World Cup preparations, consider this item from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald:
“FIFA wants to sell beer at the 2014 World Cup because a main sponsor is Budweiser, but host nation Brazil wants to maintain its stadium booze ban. Never thought I’d see it: Brazil in favor of less partying.”
Memo to FIFA:
Booze in the stadiums or no booze in the stadiums, that is a minor issue to me.
What is a major issue?
Ban all vuvuzelas. I mean ALL of them…
UEFA is the Union of European Football Associations. Every 4 years – - halfway between World Cup tournaments – - UEFA stages a tournament of European national teams. UEFA 2012 is drawing to its conclusion in Poland and the Ukraine; UEFA 2016 will happen in France. The folks at UEFA always make the point that their tournaments – - whether club tournaments or national teams’ tournaments – - are the top shelf of the sport. Their attitude is that this is “where the big kids play”. If you look at the national teams entries from top to bottom, they are probably correct.
However, before the UEFA folks hyperventilate while congratulating themselves, consider that two soccer powerhouses are not participants in UEFA 2012 based on geography. Brazil and Argentina each have a national team that competes at the top level of international soccer; neither is in Europe; neither is included. Therefore, at the end of every UEFA tournament, there has to be the nagging question:
Gee, I wonder how Brazil and/or Argentina might have fared?
Brazil and Argentina are equally matched. The two national teams have played each other 93 times – - including “friendlies” (Yeah, right!). Their head-to-head record is Argentina 35 Brazil 34 Ties 24. If my math is correct, the cumulative score in those 93 games is Argentina 155 and Brazil 150.
Finally, here is a point to ponder from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald:
“Running back LaDainian Tomlinson retired as a Charger. Somebody asked if I thought he was the greatest player named LaDainian ever. I said whoa, let’s not get carried away!”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………