Brazil's 2014 concerns gather pace
With less than a thousand days to go before Brazil 2014, the 20th World Cup, there is a stand-off between Dilma Rousseff and Sepp Blatter, the presidents of Brazil and FIFA respectively.
At the heart of the dispute are the problems of staging the World Cup in a developing economy. For FIFA, the World Cup is low risk as it makes its money from the sale of TV rights. Meanwhile, it makes all sorts of demands on the host nation and, in a country such as Brazil, there are many competing claims on the public purse.
If there is one country in the developing world with the leverage to stand up to FIFA, it is Brazil - five-time world champions and globally synonymous with the glamour of the game. Rousseff appears keen to use some of that leverage.
FIFA has been anxiously waiting for Brazil to pass a law bringing into effect a legislative framework for 2014, but Brazil has been in no hurry and is unwilling to give FIFA all it wants. Brazilian law, for example, decrees that senior citizens should pay half price for public events, while some of the country's 27 states extend the same right to students. FIFA wants no discounts; Brazil does not want to bend. And that is also the case on other points of conflict, such as the sale of alcoholic drinks inside the stadiums (banned in some states) or the severity of punishment for those selling pirate merchandise (FIFA wants tougher penalties).
Rousseff is digging in her heels on the issue of sovereignty because the Brazilian State has already been forced into an uncomfortable position with regard to preparation for the tournament. In theory, there was plenty of time for planning; in practice, it was wasted.
It was clear as far back as March 2003 that Brazil would be staging the 2014 World Cup. Blatter announced that under the (shortlived, as it turned out) rotation principle, 2014 would go to South America. CONMEBOL, the continent's football confederation, instantly announced that Brazil was its only candidate so, when Brazil was officially given the job in October 2007, it was mere ratification. At this point, Brazil should have had its plans in place. Instead, it had not even named its host cities. Nor would it.
The controversial Ricardo Teixeira has been president of the CBF, Brazil's FA, since 1989. He also presides over the 2014 Local Organising Committee, an uncommon accumulation of powers. But he did not want to take the political heat for excluding cities from the party, so, unusually, the decision was passed to FIFA. Its choices were announced at the end of May 2009. Years had been needlessly thrown away.
It is hard to escape the conclusion that Rouseff's predecessor, the charismatic Lula, should take some of the blame. Once a critic of Teixeira, Lula became an ally, his efforts at playing the global statesman bolstered by a friendship with the effective owner of the Brazilian national team. Not enough pressure was placed on Teixeira to name the host cities and speed up the planning process. From this point, the 2014 World Cup carried two certainties - that it would cost the hard-pressed Brazilian taxpayer more than it should, while also providing less than it should in return.
Costs spiralled, and the government had to pick up the bill. Teixeira's sales patter had been that the money for stadiums would all be private. In the event, it is nearly all public and it is hard to see how some of the stadiums, especially those in Cuiaba and Manaus, will be viable once the circus has left town.
With public money being thrown at stadiums and also at airport capacity - the Achilles' heel of the 2014 World Cup - a scale-back is already taking place on urban mobility projects, the area where Brazilian society could most benefit from the event.
But what of the tourist who flies in to enjoy the party? Brazil's crime rate makes security a legitimate concern and, while the country has a good track record of providing security for major events, the nationwide scope of the World Cup will be an extra challenge.
Expense is also a consideration. Brazil's currency, the 'real', has gained enormously in strength over the last few years. Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro were recently named as respectively the tenth and 12th most expensive cities in the world. There might be a change by 2014 - the exchange rate is making it difficult for Brazil to export manufactured goods - but sound advice to potential World Cup fans would be to start saving up early.
It may also be necessary to bring a variety of clothes. This is another 'Winter World Cup' but in a country the size of a continent where the season only really bites in the south. Temperatures in Porto Alegre and Curitiba could even be around freezing. Further north, there are plenty of venues hitting above 30 degrees Celsius.
Such vast temperature differences between host cities could well prove controversial. Those teams based in the south for their group games are likely to feel at a disadvantage if they have to move to the much hotter north for a knockout match. Amid all the fuss about human failings, it could be that the most criticised aspect of the 2014 World Cup is one laid on by Mother Nature.