The World Cup is rapidly approaching. However, concerns are mounting that Brazil is falling too far behind schedule to enable it to complete its preparations by the time the global soccer tournament is supposed to kick off in June. Hundreds of thousands of fans will descend on the South American country this summer, looking forward to watching "the beautiful game" being played at its finest. Instead, they risk encountering poorly finished stadiums, transportation nightmares and violence.
Sepp Blatter, the FIFA supremo who has overseen the world's favorite sport since 1998, has let his frustrations be known publicly this week. Despite having more time than any other previous host nation, Brazil still started work late and has been missing deadlines ever since. Less kind words have been spoken before. For example, in 2012, another FIFA official stated clearly and succinctly that Brazil "needed a kick up the ass," causing a minor diplomatic incident. Blatter himself had previously appealed to "God, Allah and whoever" to ensure that the work would be completed on schedule.
Several people have already died in accidents related to the World Cup rollout. In December, a man fell to his death in the Arena da Amazonia, where an early match by England will be played. Just weeks earlier, two other people died in the Sao Paulo stadium, where the opening match will be played, when a crane collapsed. Concerns are being voiced over how safe these venues will be when they eventually are completed.
Brazilian politicians, such as President Dilma Rousseff and the sports minister, Aldo Rebelo, have defended their country and assured the world that everything will be ready in time for the tournament. More than $13 billion is being spent to stage the World Cup, an amount that has attracted unfavorable attention from poor Brazilians who feel that the money could be put to better use. Brazil's similarities to other so-called BRIC countries — Russia, India and China — include the fact that despite strong gross domestic product numbers and prosperity for limited groups of urban elites, there is still widespread poverty in the nation.
The protests that started during last year's Confederations Cup, the "warm-up" tournament held in Brazil to give the global audience a sneak peek of what the host country has prepared, show no sign of disappearing. It has been reported that more than 1 million people took to the streets, shouting slogans against both the World Cup and FIFA. Plans are already underway for further protests later this month. Despite efforts by the government to keep its citizens onside while the world is watching, anger is building.
As a result, a special riot squad has been established, consisting of 10,000 police officers drawn from across the country. Their task is to contain any protests that break out either in the run-up to or during the World Cup. These elite officers will be given special training in order to ensure that allegations of "police overreaction," which circulated the Confederations Cup, do not occur again this summer.
Gang wars are also a problem, with one particularly gruesome encounter in the northern town of Sao Luis resulting in buses being set on fire while passengers were still on board. A 6-year-old girl was burned on more than 90 percent of her body as a result, as were her sister and mother. And of course, there will be the everyday, run-of-the-mill criminality that is a feature of modern life here. Tourists will need to prepare themselves for the risks that come with visiting a country as violent as Brazil.
In addition, Brazil is a very large country. The distances between matches, which are being played in 12 different cities, can be vast, sometimes exceeding 2,000 miles. Given Brazil's poor transportation links, this means most visitors will have to rely on domestic airlines to fly them back and forth, potentially at great costs.
This World Cup is the first to be played in South America since 1978 and should be a cause of celebration. Much has changed in the past 35 years. Countries that were dictatorships are now democracies. Stagnant economies are exhibiting levels of growth that make them the envy of more developed countries. However, the problem of poverty stubbornly remains.
Staging a high-profile international event such as the World Cup or the Olympics, which Brazil will also host in two years, is a great opportunity to show billions of people what your country has to offer. It's a chance to dispel outdated prejudices and provide both attendees and viewers at home with a fresh perspective on who you really are and where you are headed.
This summer in Brazil, the world will be watching. Let's hope that the world sees Brazil at its best.
Timothy Spangler is a writer and commentator who divides his time between Los Angeles and London. His radio show, "The Bigger Picture with Timothy Spangler," airs every Sunday night from 10 p.m. to midnight Pacific time on KRLA AM 870. To find out more about Timothy Spangler and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.