Will Brazil be ready for the World Cup?

A spate of recent reports in the press suggests that matters in Brazil ahead of next summer’s FIFA World Cup are less than satisfactory. The question is, however, whether the infrastructure delays are also reflected in a lack of preparedness on the broadcast side.

As is becoming traditional in the build-up to any major sporting event, reports are starting to circulate with increasing frequency about Brazil’s lack of readiness to stage FIFA 2016. Actually, to be fair, they have been there from the very start of the process when Brazil won the bid, and while it is always tempting to dismiss a degree of such reporting as a special kind of Anglo-Saxon chauvinism (Greece was vilified in print in the run up to a generally successful Athens 2004) there is definite substance to the worries.

Essentially, it is the infrastructure upgrades required to handle the sheer number of projected visitors to the tournament that are causing the major headaches. Brazil is a large country with an ageing and inefficient transport system, and the travel logistics in particular are causing concern.

Sao Paulo Guarulhos International, where up to three million fans are expected to land, was recently ranked the worst of 26 major Latin American airports surveyed by Latin Trade magazine, and of the $3.3bn allocated to upgrade the dozen host city airports, only 3% had been spent back in March according to Reuters. In the southern city of Porto Alegre, work on expanding the airport terminal at a cost of $69 million has not even begun, and the whole situation is getting caught up in a political argument too about breaking the monopoly power of Infraero, the federal airports agency.

Then there are the hotels, where shortage of rooms is a chronic problem. Rio promised to add 22,000 rooms by 2014, but forecasts are that it will be fortunate to add half that number. Plans to hire half a dozen cruise ships to house visitors and moor them in a harbour that itself needs work hardly inspire confidence.

All in all, the Brazilian government promised to undertake $1 trillion of public works over this decade, much of it crucial to the smooth running of the World Cup and the Olympics two years later. That it has yet to deliver and the price is going up can be laid at a changing combination of corruption, inflation or high taxes depending on your own political persuasion.

As to the stadia, It was recently revealed that only one of the six new stadiums – the venue for the opening match in Sao Paulo – is on schedule to be completed by the end of this year, the initial deadline given by FIFA. The others should be ready by the start of the tournament – which is the main thing – but there is a widespread belief that it is the stadia work, which includes $500m of upgrades to Rio’s Maracana Stadium, that is swallowing up a disproportionate amount of both funds and resources

So, where does this all leave the broadcast effort? Not surprisingly given the delicacy of the situation, no-one wanted to speak on the record, but the consensus among the broadcasters that SVG Europe has spoken to is that FIFA and HBS have done a good job of getting things ready. The Confederations Cup looked good, and any lingering concerns about fibre connectivity will hopefully be dispelled by the time it comes round to the second FIFA World Broadcaster Meeting held immediately after the final draw on 8 December.

Even the new turnkey multimedia second screen services are considered to be fairly bulletproof, as the rights’ holders happily lean on HBS’ experience of producing coverage from previous tournaments. Indeed, the 34 camera multilateral camera plan is a simple enhancement from the 32 camera 2010 coverage, including two new super slo reverse-angle 6m cameras, a cable system and an aerial camera for all matches where the venue infrastructure permits.

“As far as the host goes, there are no problems that I can see and there are plenty of reasons to be cheerful,” one European broadcaster commented, before adding: “The rest of it won’t be anywhere near as easy.”

Unilaterals are the area causing concern, though not so much from a technical standpoint as from the logistical one that ties into the rest of Brazil’s communication and infrastructure problems. Moving kit around is set to be challenging, mobile signals and mobile internet – which has become essential in OB ops all of a sudden – is patchy, and there is a pronounced shortage of reasonable standard accommodation, especially as you get out to the further flung host cities.

Interestingly – and surprisingly given some of the recent demos and protests in the country – it seems there is little repeat of the security worries that dominated so much of the discussion ahead of South Africa, but the advice coming from all and sundry is that you need reliable Brazilian consultants on the ground capable of working at all levels with other Brazilians to ensure that things go smoothly.

“I can’t say I’m looking forward to it,” said one chief engineer. “It will work but it won’t be the easiest.”

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