Concerns Over Brazil’s Readiness For World Cup And Summer Olympics

Feb 5, 2014

With the 2014 Winter Olympic Games kicking off this week in Sochi, it may seem excessive to look ahead to the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro. However, Brazilian officials are already under significant pressure for not meeting deadlines in planning the 2016 Olympic Games and the 2014 World Cup.

Both mega-events face construction delays and increased scrutiny over the billions in public money being spent. And in the case of the 2014 World Cup expected to begin in June, time is running out. NPR’s Lourdes Garcia-Navarro joins Here & Now’s Robin Young to discuss these concerns.


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And we've been bringing you news from Sochi. Events start there tomorrow, the opening ceremonies for the 2014 Olympics Friday night. Here's another tidbit - the beloved Jamaican bobsled team arrived in Sochi earlier today after a very public crowd-funding campaign, raising almost $130,000 in just two days. But sadly, their gear did not arrive. The team is led by Winston Watts, the veteran who also led back in 2002.

He told reporters at the baggage claim that the team may need to borrow equipment from other countries. He said: We're the most lovingest(ph) people in the world. Every moment is positive. We always keep the guys smiling. That's our motto, as round and round, the empty baggage carousel went.

Well, as the Olympics are about to start in Sochi, there's another city preparing for visitors. Rio de Janeiro will host the 2016 Summer Olympics. But before that, cities across Brazil will welcome hundreds of thousands of tourists for the 2014 World Cup. It's just a few months away, but construction on several of the proposed stadiums is way behind schedule. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro joins us now from Sao Paulo.

And, Lourdes, people may not know when you have a World Cup, you have to have more than one stadium. We understand that six out of the 12 are not ready yet.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: That's right. Sao Paulo, Curitiba, Manaus, Cuiaba, Natal, Porto Alegre: we're talking about six of the World Cup venues still not ready. In fact, FIFA, soccer's world governing body, has said that one of them, Curitiba, might not actually even make the cut, meaning that all their construction will be in vain because they are so delayed. It's a big deal here. It's getting a lot of attention. People are using the word fiasco for Brazil's World Cup preparations.

YOUNG: Well - and why is it so delayed?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You know, there's a lot of different reasons. First of all, you have to think that Brazil is an enormous country. It's a continent-sized country. And they very ambitiously said, OK, we're going to have this World Cup in 12 different cities. So it's really spread out.

If you look at Manaus, for example, that's in the heart of the Amazon. They've had all sorts of issues with logistics. The Amazon suffers from terrible rainstorms, that's caused a lot of delays in the building. Workers' safety issues, you name it, they've had to deal with it. You look at the issues in Curitiba - there's been worker strikes. They've had problems getting the funds in, so that's delayed construction. Every single different stadium has had different issues. But overall, what that's meant is that Brazil is very far behind in their World Cup preparations.

YOUNG: Well, and there's also a protest movement because of the - some of the things you mentioned. It's called No World Cup, protesting social inequality, corruption, and what's become the staggering cost because of all those problems you've mentioned, of the 2014 Brazil World Cup. We know the Brazilian president has had to take out an ad campaign to defend the World Cup. There's now a government ban on protesters wearing masks. Tell us more about, you know, what's happening there.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, consider that, you know, Brazil is soccer crazy. This is sort of considered the home of soccer, if you will, at least the spiritual home of soccer. So the fact that this is happening just shows you how sensitive all this is. And if you think back to when Brazil won the World Cup, they promised a lot of things. They said that they were going to do massive infrastructure upgrades, that this was not going to be borne by the state alone, that there was going to be a lot of private investment that was going to cover the cost of these stadiums.

And, in fact, what's happened is that 80 percent of cost is being covered by the government. And many of these stadiums are widely over budget. We're talking 50 percent over budget, 75 percent over budget. These are really, really expensive stadiums. And a lot of people are saying they're going to be white elephants at the end of them.

You look at a stadium like Manaus, they really don't host a, sort of, local team there that can pull in the crowds to fill that stadium. So people ask what is going to happen after the World Cup. And so people are saying, listen, we have a lot of problems here. There's terrible social inequality. We have problems with health - our health care system. We have problems with our education. And so all this money that is being poured into these games would be better served serving the people of Brazil.

And so there is a protest movement. It remains to be seen exactly how much traction it will have. There is, at the moment, a small, very committed group of activists who want to highlight problems at the World Cup. But certainly, the government here is preparing for the worst.

YOUNG: And the World Cup is right around the corner. What's the sense of what might happen here?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, that's a subject of a great deal of discussion. Nobody is putting bets on anything. But certainly, the government is saying, we are preparing for the worst. This is going to be one of the most expensive World Cups put on simply also because of the cost of security. They are ramping up their security measures because even though they expect protests, they certainly do not want these protests to overshadow the games. I think that's going to be a tall order.

We have seen in the past the Brazilian police behave in a very heavy-handed manner towards protesters each time, there are confrontations. And so I think it's going to be a very bumpy ride.

YOUNG: And meanwhile, right behind the World Cup, the Summer Olympics. Is there a sense that maybe even thinking about the Summer Olympics, which is not that far away, 2016, planning for that might be delayed because of concerns about the World Cup?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, I just spoke to the chief operating officer of the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. And, of course, the problems with the World Cup are casting a long shadow over the Olympic Games, but he stresses these are two different events organized in two different ways. First of all, it's the city of Rio de Janeiro that is hosting the Olympics. It answers to the IOC, the International Olympic Committee, not to FIFA. And so they feel like they have things well in hand.

However, there have been a lot of criticisms, as well, levied at the Olympic Committee and the preparations that are being launched in Rio de Janeiro. They are not late, but they are certainly over budget. We just had a partial budget released, and it's some 25 percent over what they had initially estimated. Analysts say that it will be well over that at the end of it.

There are criticisms about the fact that the city government has been moving people involuntarily from some of these areas where they lived into other less desirable areas in the city, that they are trying to ratchet up construction to attract more affluent crowd at the expense of the poorer population in Rio de Janeiro. So it's also fraught with a great deal of controversy.

You know, part of what they wanted to do is really take Rio, which is a very insecure city, and try to make it more secure, so they started this program called pacification where they put police into the shantytowns, the favelas. And instead, what we've seen, instead of crime going down, is that we've seen a really strong spike in crime in Rio de Janeiro. All the indicators say that murders are up, robberies are up. And that is very disappointing news for the city of Rio de Janeiro, which is going to be hosting the Olympics and really wants tourists to come, wants to be a world-class city. And its best efforts are being stymied.

YOUNG: Why would there be more murders?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's a very complicated question, and there are many answers to that. But certainly, what the government of Rio is saying is that because they have put police into these areas where drug barons have ruled for decades, that has disrupted the flow of money into these gangs. And so now they are going out looking for new sources of revenue. And that has meant that there are an increase in robberies, an increase in other sorts of assaults as they look for money elsewhere in the city.

Before, the crime used to be localized, they say, in these poor shantytowns. Now, the crime is all over the city. And that is indeed very worrying for Rio de Janeiro, which hopes to receive thousands upon thousands of tourists for the World Cup and the Olympics.

YOUNG: Well, and I am betting, Lourdes, that officials there in Brazil are really happy right now that the focus and the criticism is on Sochi.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I have had people tell me, off the record, of course, that the things in Sochi looks so bad that Brazil can only shine by comparison. That remains to be seen. However, certainly, the spotlight will come to Brazil soon enough. And everyone here wants to be ready. Whether they will be or not is a very good question.

YOUNG: NPR's South American correspondent Lourdes Garcia-Navarro in Sao Paulo. Lourdes, thanks so much.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're welcome.

YOUNG: From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young.


I'm Jeremy Hobson. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.