The 500-day countdown until Brazil hosts the 2014 World Cup began Monday with only two of the required 12 stadiums ready for action.
But Brazil’s Minister of Sports Aldo Rebelo said during a teleconference with journalists last week that all stadium construction and renovations needed for the June 12-July13, 2014 World Cup will be completed by the end of this year.
Renovations on arenas in Fortaleza and Belo Horizonte were finished in December, and Rebelo said construction of two stadiums in Recife and Salvador and renovations on Rio de Janeiro’s famed Maracanã soccer palace and the stadium in Brasilia will be completed by April.
That’s cutting it a bit close because Brazil is set to host the FIFA Confederations Cup June 15-30 and all six stadiums are required.
The Confederations Cup is considered a tuneup for the World Cup and will give Brazil, which is also playing host to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, a chance to see if its airports, hotel network and transportation system will be ready for the massive sporting events.
For the World Cup, six more host cities will be added and stadiums are either undergoing extensive renovations or are under construction in Cuiaba, Curitiba, Manaus, Natal, Port Alegre and São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city.
Brazil had planned to mark the beginning of the 500-day countdown with a celebration Monday in Brasilia but the festivities were cancelled out of respect for the victims of a nightclub fire in the southern city of Santa Maria that claimed more than 230 lives over the weekend.
Meanwhile, transportation in the host cities has been a concern. While noting that there were transportation problems in Olympic host cities London and Beijing as well, Rebelo said that 20 percent of planned transportation projects have been completed, and another 60 percent, including new roads, a subway extension in Rio de Janeiro and Bus Rapid Transit system in Rio, are in progress. The city’s first BRT corridor, Transoeste, opened in June, and three other corridors are planned. That would give the traffic-clogged city a total of 93 miles of BRT lines.
In an effort to improve air service in preparation for the World Cup and Olympic Games, the Brazilian government awarded concessions for the operation and renovation of the country’s three largest airports last year but other contracts, including the one for Rio’s Galeão International Airport, are yet to be awarded.
Asked about the quality of the selecão, or team, that Brazil will field for the World Cup, and the fact that most Brazilian players are on the rosters of European teams rather than Brazilian teams, Rebelo responded, “Soccer in Brazil is essentially a private activity… Players live in difficulty in Brazil. They have lots of debt and they are often not managed in a very professional way, and this leads to an exodus of players to other countries.
“We want to use the World Cup as a starting point for professionalizing and democratizing the structure of soccer’’ in Brazil, Rebelo said.
Some 600,000 international visitors are expected for the soccer extravaganza, and a World Cup mascot has been selected and named by the Brazilian public. Fuleco, an armadillo or tatu in Portuguese, has already been making the rounds at FIFA events. The name is a fusion of futebol (soccer) and ecologia (ecology).