Will Brazil's World Cup be a world-class disaster? | WORLD
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Will Brazil's World Cup be a world-class disaster?

The still unfinished stadium that will host the World Cup opener match between Brazil and Croatia on June 12, in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Associated Press/Photo by Andre Penner

Will Brazil's World Cup be a world-class disaster?

The roof of the stadium hosting the World Cup opener June 12 in Brazil will not be finished for the tournament, Brazilian officials said Friday. In all, three stadiums weren’t finished by the one-month countdown to the worldwide soccer tournament as Brazil continues to miss major deadlines.

Glass panels to shield fans in Sao Paolo are more aesthetic than structural, but scrapping parts of projects has become common in the country awarded the tournament in 2007. All 12 stadiums have hosted some form of soccer match as a test, so all likely will be functional. But dozens of infrastructure projects around stadiums remain unfinished. Some transportation upgrades are now set to be finished no sooner than year’s end, if at all.

Brazil is South America’s largest economy, so why is it having so much trouble ahead of the World Cup? High taxes on both income and consumption, as well as a tax structure more complicated than that in the United States, leads to a high cost of living Brazilians have even named: “custo Brasil.” As much as 50 percent of salary goes to payroll taxes, according to The Economist. But despite the burden, infrastructure and education are underfunded and the government runs a deficit. Entrepreneurs find the business climate so cumbersome that as much as 40 percent of Brazil’s economy happens on the black market.

Citizens’ anger fueled protests this weekend as activists burned tires near the stadiums. The clashes came less than a month before kickoff and served as unwelcome reminders of the often violent anti-government protests last June that saw more than a million Brazilians take the streets during the FIFA’s Confederations Cup soccer tournament. The protesters railed against corruption and the billions spent to host the events.

In a poll last year, three-fourths of respondents said the World Cup construction has been rife with corruption. Brazilian auditors found that $500 million of the $11.5 billion World Cup budget has been frittered away to fraud as receipts show multiple charges for the same service. Auditors also found gross overspending on some items. In one instance the government paid $1.5 million for a service that was supposed to cost $4,700.

Brazilian officials insist they’ll be ready, that delays won’t affect necessities. But the northeastern city of Recife is especially challenged as local authorities struggle to organize a fanfest, which allows fans without tickets to watch matches for free on large screens in public areas. FIFA, the international soccer governing body, has threatened to sue the cities that don’t hold the event, but tourist safety may be an even bigger concern. A fan died May 2 when fans in Recife ripped toilets from a stadium’s top deck and threw them on opposing fans below.

Complicating the safety issue is the state of the police force. Police in Recife’s state of Pernambuco went on strike last week, demanding a 50 percent pay hike. An immediate rash of looting, car robberies, and murders ensued, until the government sent in federal troops. Team USA will play Germany in Recife on June 26, and Americans have bought three times as many tickets to the month-long tournament as any country outside Brazil, at 150,000 seats.

And Brazil’s international sports woes won’t end with the FIFA tournament. The country will host the 2016 Olympics, and International Olympic Committee Vice President John Coates said in April that preparations—or lack thereof—for the event were the worst he had ever experienced.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Andrew Branch Andrew is a World Journalism Institute graduate and a former WORLD correspondent.

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