Five things to beware when Brazil hosts the World Cup


Brazil has an almost uncanny ability to disappoint. The country’s government has angered middle-class Brazilians who expect better public services for their sky-high taxes. State meddling in the economy has hurt investors who once bet Brazil would become the next economic powerhouse. The South American country may now disillusion hundreds of thousands of World Cup soccer fans who will pay top dollar to attend the tournament, which starts in June.

Brazil’s struggles to control crime in a number of the sprawling favelas in the weeks before hosting the world’s biggest sporting event is just one of several indications that it isn’t ready for the spotlight. Brazil’s haphazard planning will result in five concerns for soccer fans:

1. Terrible lodging at outrageous prices.

To say Brazil will have a hotel shortage during the World Cup is an understatement. The country expects 600,000 visitors, but has no more than 55,400 hotel beds available for them. Part of the problem is that plans for more hotels were abandoned. Rooms in top hotels are pricey and booked. Those who can’t find decent lodging may have to brave dark alleyways and fork out $90 a night for a dingy room in a gang-controlled favela, one of the vast slums that ring most of Brazil’s cities — or set up a tent (some will).

2. Prepare to be left standing.

Like hotel rooms, seats in stadiums may be in short supply. Several sports venues are still unfinished. This is why Brazil is adding temporary seats. FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, is even holding back 7 percent of the tickets because it doesn’t yet know how many seats will be available for spectators. Plus, some venues run the risk of having sound and lighting problems if Brazilian authorities don’t have enough time to test them before the tournament begins.

3. Welcome to transportation hell.

How do you say gridlock in Portuguese? Getting around Brazil, a challenge under the best of circumstances, will be a nightmare during the World Cup. Airport expansions and renovations probably won’t be done in time, which means travellers might face long lines, flight delays, cancellations and unsightly views of unfinished infrastructure. Idling cars will clog the streets since many local governments scratched plans to add bus lanes and make mass-transit improvements. Fans should expect to do plenty of walking.

4. Blackouts.

Fans better pray it rains in Brazil before the tournament gets underway. The country depends on hydroelectric power and its reservoirs are bone dry because of a serious drought. Add World Cup demand to the country’s power grid and Brazil could run the risk of outages. Brazil’s energy company, Petrobras, is frantically buying more liquid natural gas for running power plants. A word to the wise soccer fan: bring a flashlight to your overpriced hotel.

5. Beware angry Brazilians.

Plenty of Brazilians are outraged at the soaring costs of those unfinished stadiums, which they believe were built at the expense of improved social services. Many plan to protest during the Cup, which some deride as a symbol of misplaced priorities. Sponsors are worried about unrest and the government is bringing in thousands of additional police. President Dilma Rousseff has planned a campaign to persuade Brazilians to support the event, but that may not do much — and that’s saying something in a county as soccer-obsessed as Brazil. If Brazil is lucky, the cheering inside the stadiums won’t be drowned out by the protests going on outside them.

The World Cup was supposed to showcase Brazil as a rising economic power poised to break free of its legacy of corruption and social decay. Instead, the event risks doing just the opposite — highlighting how little has changed. If so, World Cup fans will have plenty to complain about. Maybe they should bring their own picket signs that say: “Brazil, give me my money’s worth or give it back.”

© 2014, Bloomberg News

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