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A SPORTING DISASTER WAITING TO HAPPEN IN 2014

The pressure on Brazil’s World Cup organizers increased considerably with the release of a report from a government watchdog group highly critical of officials for missing deadlines and allowing costs to spiral in preparations for Brasil ’14, all the while lacking in transparency.

The Brazilian Audit Court, the body responsible for monitoring how public money is spent in the country, said organizers were falling behind in upgrading stadiums, airports and infrastructure ahead of  the 32-team, 64-match event.

The report comes on the heels of remarks by Pele and fellow Brazilian Joao Havelange, a six-term FIFA president, who expressed concerns about the pace of work.

The Audit Court found widespread problems in most of  the 12 host cities and cited a “very great risk” of misuse of public funds, a concern that recalled preparations for the 2007 Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro, which will host key World Cup games as well as the 2016 Summer Olympics.  [February 23]

Comment:   Though not the first World Cup host nation to appear to be in over its head dozens of months before its big moment, Brazil is following in the proud tradition of, well, Brazil. 

The Brazilians hosted their first World Cup in 1950 and built the massive, eye-popping Estadio Mario Filho o Maracana in Rio for the occasion–that is, they almost built it.  When the 178,000-seat stadium welcomed a world-record throng of 220,000 (thanks to ample standing room) for the final between Brazil and Uruguay, this architectural marvel was far from complete.  That wouldn’t happen until, officially, 1965, when the Maracana was already showing signs of disrepair.  Now there are doubts that this same stadium will be ready for its second close-up, as site of some of the marquee matches in 2014.

Things like that happen in this proud, stunning, maddening, dysfunctional, potentially great nation–just ask any Brazilian.  But for the vast majority of fans who plan to watch Brasil ’14 on television, the concern is not be on whether World Cup tourists will be able fly from the Salvador airport in the northeast to Viracopos airport outside Sao Paolo but whether the Brazilian team can get into the final on home soil and, unlike their 1950 predecessors, win it.

This will be the first World Cup in two dozen years in which, unfortunately, there will be unbearable pressure on the host team to win it all.  And as we have seen, there’s something very stifling about such tournaments.  At the most recent, Italia ’90,  the expectations of a nation seemed to suck the goals right out of the proceedings (an all-time low of 2.21 goals per game); at Argentina ’78, as the Argentines took the final in overtime amidst a shower of confetti in Buenos Aires, the end result, for non-Argentines, was empty, like watching soccer played according to a script.

With that in mind, for those rooting for a great tournament, one that reflects the joy, color and passion of Brazil, we are all forced into the position of rooting for the Brazilian team as it makes its tortured way to what is fully expected by 165 million countrymen to be an appearance in the final, where it will finally avenge that loss to Uruguary in 1950.  But if Brazil performs as it did in its most recent friendly, an uninspiring 1-0 loss to France in Paris, the only question will be just when the local atmosphere surrounding the 20th World Cup goes from carnaval to funeral.

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