2014 FIFA World Cup: Worldwide Spectacle or Logistical Debacle?

BY JOSH BRANDSDORFER–Over the past week, the American public has heard and seen all about the substandard Olympic Village living conditions in Sochi, Russia for the 2014 Winter Olympics. Various athletes and members of the media alike have tweeted pictures, instagrammed videos, and written blog entries about bathrooms with two toilets, yellow-brown water running from the faucets, and the lack of hotel reception areas due to unfinished construction in many hotels. Despite President Putin’s interest in presenting a modern Russia to the world, it is now beginning to look like the idea of a Sochi Olympics seemed much better in theory than the current logistical nightmare it has created.

Fast-forward to June 2014. The 2014 FIFA World Cup is coming to Brazil, and the home side is hoping to produce a World Cup that is as memorable off the pitch as on the pitch, where the Brazilians are one of the favorites to win the most coveted honor in the sports world. But concerns continue to grow over the lack of World Cup-quality playing facilities and hotel infrastructure, creating doubt—is this Sochi all over again? In fact, the new Itaquerao Stadium in Sao Paulo, due to host the opening match of the tournament between home-country Brazil and Croatia, recently experienced a roof collapse that not only killed two workers but also pushed back the timetable for the stadium’s completion.[1] The Itaquerao Stadium is not alone; of the 12 stadiums to be used for the World Cup throughout Brazil, only six have met the December 31, 2013 deadline imposed by FIFA.[2]

The concerns about the ability to finish these stadiums is due in part to contractual disputes and other financing “issues” that have significantly delayed the completion of many of these venues.[3] Most ironic is the fact that FIFA officials, regularly accused of cozying up to politicians and businesses in host countries in order to help facilitate whichever event may be taking place, have actually gone public with their concerns about Brazil’s readiness to host a flawless World Cup.[4]

These effects are not just being felt by Brazil alone but also by the countries involved in this summer’s tournament. The United States, which qualified at the top of the CONCACAF (The Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football) final round group, will play its second game against Portugal in the sweltering heat and humidity in Manaus, at the Arena de Amazonia—in the heart of the Amazon rainforest.[5] Unfortunately, the United States has been unable to prepare for these unusual playing conditions because this stadium is also running late, due in part to a fatal accident this past December when an untethered worker fell to his death from the roof of the stadium.[6]

Brazilians are passionate about their football, and are rightly proud of their country’s unparalleled record five World Cup wins.[7] But the global whispers about the country’s readiness have turned into loud complaints and misgivings that are being heard throughout the country. Many Brazilian citizens already regard the tournament as a lost opportunity to showcase their unique culture to the rest of the world.[8] In order to cover the remaining costs, an influx of money may have to come from the public purse, worrying Brazilian citizens in a country that is already financially challenged.[9]

The problems with Brazil’s infrastructure are not limited simply to the unfinished 2014 World Cup stadiums. The mayor’s office in Rio De Janeiro expects over 1.5 million tourists to visit the city during the World Cup, and countless others to other cities around the country.[10] Not only are there not currently enough hotel rooms to accommodate this type of influx into the area, but those hotels that are World Cup-ready estimate nightly rates to be in excess of $450.[11] Some companies are even considering creating “football fan camps,” areas that can be set up as tent sites with the ability to hold up to 3,000 people per site.[12] Christopher Gaffney, a visiting professor in architecture and urbanism at Rio’s Federal Fluminense University, says the government could have introduced more inventive measures to boost the number of hotel rooms, while at the same time addressing the city’s current ongoing housing problem by making hotels temporary for the World Cup, and later turning those hotels into affordable housing. Gaffney also cited a “lack of creativity and imagination on the part of tournament organizers.”[13]

The hope in awarding the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics to Brazil was to create a South American-flavored worldwide spectacle that would showcase the region’s improved infrastructure, along with its renowned culture and beauty, to the rest of the world. Instead, the current uncertainty has just created a louder than expected chorus of doubters and second guessers, and that’s not what FIFA or Brazil had in mind.

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