Deputy Sports Minister Luis Fernandes: Brazil will meet its World Cup deadlines

05/28/2014 6:36 PM

05/28/2014 6:36 PM

With little more than two weeks before the FIFA World Cup begins in Brazil, preparations still aren't 100 percent complete, but Deputy Sports Minister Luis Fernandes said Wednesday that this soccer-crazy nation will meet its deadlines and stage a “fantastic” event.

But Brazil is cutting it very close. Final testing of the new $366.2 million Corinthians Arena in São Paulo — where the June 12 opener, Brazil vs. Croatia, will be played — isn’t scheduled until Sunday.

The full dress rehearsal will include special attention to 20,000 temporary seats installed specifically for the World Cup. They’ll be removed after the tournament and the stadium’s capacity pared taken down to 48,000.

Any improvements that might be needed, Fernandes said, will be made right up to the opening match. Workers also are still rushing to complete last-minute fixes on stadiums in Curitiba, Cuiabá and Porto Alegre.

Rio de Janeiro’s new 24-mile TransCarioca bus rapid transit route, which links Galeão International Airport to Barra Tijuca and serves 14 neighborhoods, also is scheduled to be inaugurated on Monday, and President Dilma Rousseff presided over the inauguration of a gleaming new terminal at Sao Paulo’s massive Guarulhos Airport last week — although it won’t be operating at full capacity for the Cup.

“It’s been a tough job, but we’re very confident we’ll deliver a fantastic World Cup in two weeks time,’’ said Fernandes in a teleconference with journalists. “We are not happy about whatever delays exist, but we will deliver on time.”

A number of other public transportation projects in the 12 World Cup host cities and airport upgrades, however, are still works in progress.

Many of them, pointed out Fernandes, weren’t required by FIFA or considered essential to hosting a World Cup, but Brazil had hoped to finish them before an estimated 600,000 international and 3 million Brazilian fans descend on the country’s new and refurbished stadiums.

But he conceded that if Brazil had done a few things differently it might have alleviated some of the nail-biting anxiety over whether South America’s largest country would be ready for the biggest soccer event in the world.

When Brazil was awarded the World Cup seven years ago, preparations were left in the hands of the local organizing committee and there wasn’t even a federal government representative on the committee’s board.

Two years ago, a government representative joined the board and the level of planning “improved immensely” after that, Fernandes said.

Another miscue on the government’s part, he said, was miscalculating the effort it would take to communicate with Brazilians about how improvements being made for the World Cup could positively impact them.

“We should have communicated more strongly the benefits the World Cup brings to the country,’’ he said. “The benefits for national development are hugely greater than the organizing expenditures entailed.”

The government, he said, has used the World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro as a catalyst to loosen funding for long-needed infrastructure improvements.

Brazilians, he said, misunderstood these investments, which will continue long after the soccer extravaganza is over, as World Cup costs.

Because soccer is Brazil’s national sport, the government thought acceptance of the mega-sporting event would be almost automatic, said Fernandes.

It has been anything but.

Since last year’s Confederations Cup, demonstrations have rocked Brazil with protesters complaining about everything from transit fare increases to government corruption to the high cost of putting on a World Cup when Brazil has mediocre public education and healthcare systems.

In recent weeks, there also have been strikes of police, teachers and bus drivers. World Cup plans have been adapted accordingly, Fernandes said, to guarantee the flow of fans to and from the stadiums and to address “practically every single contingency we will face.”

“We do not see a problem at all with peaceful demonstrations,” the deputy sports minister said. “What we cannot tolerate — because we are a democratic state based on rule of law — are acts of violence and vandalism.”

As part of World Cup preparations, fiber optic cables now follow electrical transmission lines from the Amazon to southern Brazil, fully connecting World Cup host city Manaus by broadband with the rest of the country for the first time.

Now the irony is, Fernandes said, that some protesters might be using the city’s new broadband capabilities to mobilize demonstrators on social media. “These are the paradoxes of a developing country,’’ he added.

In recent weeks, he said, meetings have been held in all World Cup cities to review operational plans for the event and full security measures will go into effect next week.

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