World Cup 2014: 100 days to get it right

Last week marked the psychologically important 100 days to go mark in the countdown to the World Cup’s start in Rio, while this Saturday the first-ever match will also be held in the stunning new Amazonia Arena in Manaus. The build-up to the tournament remains troublesome though.

The Amazonia Arena is designed to look like an indigenous straw basket and the organisers must hope that there isn’t some metaphor lurking in there about the wind getting up and blowing the house of straw away. Because with 100 days to go a lot of the preparation for the tournament still seems to be going down to the wire. When no less a figure than Sepp Blatter is wheeled out to reassure people, then you know that matters behind the scenes can be termed ‘interesting’ at best.

“100 days is a long way to go,” Blatter comments. “All problems are now under control and it will be in 100 days an exceptional start to an exceptional competition.”

Nevertheless there are still many serious concerns. A video marking the countdown milestone produced by the Brazilian Ministry of Sport was released showing the construction work at all 12 stadiums dotted across the country as well as the various transport infrastructure projects that the smooth running of the tournament is relying on. You can’t help but noticing that there is a lot of work going on.

“We’re working in conditions where the cement is not yet dry,” said Fifa secretary general Jerome Valcke during a news conference back in February. Half of the tournament’s dozen designated venues missed Fifa’s initial 31 December 2013 deadline for completion, with the Curitiba stadium, home of Atletico Paranaense, in particular lagging seriously behind schedule. Financial guarantees have now been provided for the work there, 1500 workers are now expected on site, and the stadium is currently scheduled to be completed by mid-May.

That is perilously close to the start of the tournament, but the same sort of brinksmanship is evident in other areas as well. Host cities are choosing now to balk at the costs of some of the services they are contracted to provide — temporary structures for the media and security operations among them — not to mention the organisation of Fan Fests, giant public screenings that in the past have more than quadrupled actual fan attendance (in Germany 2006 when they first started 3.5m went to the matches, while 18m attended the Fan Fests).

So far, Fifa is remaining intractable and insisting that they go ahead, but local authorities are ratcheting up the high-stakes poker game surrounding them by starting to play the security card. That the World Cup will be a target for many demonstrations is inevitable given the current political ferment in the country and anger at the £8.4bn expense of staging the tournament — the latest threat is from hackers aligned with the Anonymous group — it is just a question of how disruptive their reach becomes.

Meanwhile, all matters regarding the broadcast effort, or at least HBS’ role in producing the world feed, are comparatively serene by contrast. The concern remains with the unilaterals, particularly what happens when the group stages are over and there is an undignified scramble for flights and hotel rooms as the next phase of the tournament kicks in. The second round onwards still encompasses eight stadia around the country. “Over 1,900 new flights have been authorised – and more will be authorised. Just this first measure has already resulted in significant airfare reductions to World Cup destinations,” commented executive secretary of the Ministry of Sport, Luis Fernandes, adding that similar initiatives have been aimed at the hotel industry.

On the field, at least, things are going much smoother, with Brazil thrashing South Africa 5-0 in Johannesburg in their last friendly before the tournament starts. So, at least one aspect of the build-up is going to plan, but the importance of the home team’s importance in the tournament should not be undersold either. As security consultant NYA International writes: “It is assessed that if Brazil’s national football team underperform in the tournament, resentment for the government will increase which will lead to further disturbances.”

And, in this context, underperform means anything apart from winning…

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