SPORTS

Brazil's Sports Minister Admits World Cup Planning Could Have Been Better

The Itaquerao Stadium in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in a November 2013 file photo.

The Itaquerao Stadium in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in a November 2013 file photo.  (AP2013)

With 84 days to go until the kick-off of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, one would expect the country would be working on the final touchups and dealing with minor issues that arise in the lead-up to games.

Instead, Brazil is rushing to complete hotels, stadiums and other infrastructure projects as the country’s sports minister acknowledged to the Financial Times newspaper that Brazil should have been better prepared for the World Cup and is already moving too slowly getting ready for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

“We would have taken better advantage of the time because the decisions would not be different,” Brazilian Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo said when asked what he would have done differently when the country was awarded the World Cup seven years ago. “Yes, we could have the time better.”

Brazil has been plagued with problems in delays in the construction of everything from hotels to new stadiums, with both FIFA and the International Olympic Committee becoming increasingly exasperated with the preparation efforts for both sporting events.

There was a time when South America's biggest country seemed like the perfect place for soccer's showcase event. It is the game's lone superpower and the home of Pelé, its most famous brand.

Instead, the country is a logistical mess and bracing for potentially violent anti-government protests like the ones that surrounded a World Cup warm-up tournament last year.

After Brazil was awarded the cup in 2007, politicians promised $8 billion would be spent on 56 airports, subway lines and other projects nationwide, in addition to $3.5 billion for construction or renovation of 12 stadiums for the tournament. Nine of the stadiums are finished, but just seven of the infrastructure projects have been completed with the competition just three months away.

The World Cup was to have served as a stepping-out party announcing Brazil's arrival on the global stage.

"The world is going to see a modern and innovative nation," former Sports Minister Orlando Silva wrote in a 2011 editorial in the Folha de S.Paulo newspaper, just months before he was forced from office amid accusations he accepted kickbacks. "We're working to organize the best Cup in history ... The country can count on it."

Instead, the construction delays have become an embarrassment for many, stoking public anger over poor public services, the high cost of living and corruption scandals. Many Brazilians now say that even if their beloved soccer team wins the World Cup on July 13, the country will have already lost.

Professor Paulo Resende of Fundacao Dom Cabral, a well-known Latin American business school, said Brazil is far removed from its "euphoria phase" when it was picked as host seven years ago.

"Now we face the last stage, which is to deliver the minimum necessary to have a nice event," Resende said. "The big dream of urban mobility and airport legacy for the future of Brazil is now reduced to the basics — to maintain the country's image."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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