Near Cancellation of Brazil-England Friendly at Estadio Maracaña Is Symptomatic of a Bigger Problem

Estadio Maracaña, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
(courtesy: Érica Ramalho/Governo do Rio de Janeiro)

In September 2012, the Football Association (the “FA”) announced that Brazil and England would take part in a home-and-away set of friendlies as part of the FA’s 150th anniversary celebrations.  On February 6 of this year, England defeated Brazil 2-1 at Wembley, which no doubt left England supporters anxious to make their way to Brazil for the second half of the two-game series, which was to be held at another revered stadium, the Estadio Maracaña in Rio de Janeiro, on June 2.  And yet, as English supporters began arriving in Brazil last week, they faced a peculiar uncertainty in their vacation plans: Brazilian judge Adriana Costa dos Santos had issued an injunction suspending the match for safety reasons.

According to a report by The Guardian, a prosecutor in Rio de Janeiro sought an injunction to suspend the match because the local regulatory authority did not receive confirmation that construction projects at the stadium had been completed.  Construction has been ongoing at the stadium for the last three years, in part to prepare the Maracaña to host seven games of the World Cup in 2014, including the biggest single event in international football, the final.  The Rio de Janeiro state government blamed the failure to deliver the required safety information on a “bureaucratic failure.” The Brazilian judge granted the injunction, but noted that she would reconsider after the local authority was provided with confirmation that pertinent construction was completed.  The judge later lifted the injunction, and the teams played to a 2-2 draw.

For a country that will host the 2014 FIFA World Cup, this is not the first time that Brazil’s administrative and logistical acumen in the sporting world has been called into question.  The Maracaña is not the only prospective World Cup stadium to fall into (and perhaps remain) in a state of disrepair.  On May 28, a roof collapsed at the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador because of excessive puddling on the stadium roof’s special canvas membrane after substantial rainfall.  Indeed, the Arena Fonte Nova is scheduled to host three FIFA Confederations Cup matches in less than three weeks.  On January 31, a guardrail at the Arena Grêmio Porto Alegre gave way, injuring eight fans.  And while structural and safety issues in the stadiums are not insignificant, it appears that the Brazil 2014 organizing committee is also falling short of its assurances that improvements to critical infrastructure—including airports, roads, and security detail—will be implemented by the time the World Cup rolls around in 373 days.

The concerns raised regarding Brazil’s preparations to host the FIFA World Cup are familiar.  In the run-up to the 2010 FIFA World Cup, organizers in South Africa were dogged by questions about infrastructure, transportation, and the completion of new stadiums in time for the round robin phase of the FIFA World Cup finals.  Despite casual suggestions that the tournament could be moved on short notice to a country that would be prepared to host, the tournament proceeded as planned.

In short, the last two FIFA World Cup cycles have been plagued by serious questions as to the host country’s preparations and capacity to accommodate football’s premier international event.  Is it a coincidence or an indication of what is to come?

After Brazil 2014, the FIFA World Cup will be held in Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022.  Putting aside infrastructure responsibilities, which will fall on local and national government entities as well as the respective organizing committees, the Russian organizing committee indicated that of the twelve venues to be used for the 2018 World Cup, nine or ten stadiums will be newly constructed, and the remaining stadiums will be upgraded.  Qatar, on the other hand, initially proposed to build nine new stadiums and upgrade three existing stadiums in anticipation of the 2022 World Cup.  On April 22 of this year, however, Bank of America reported in a note to investors that Qatar was already in negotiations with FIFA to reduce the number of venues to eight or nine to address rising costs.

Given the proposed plans for each of Russia and Qatar, and after taking stock of the current infrastructure/stadium situation for each country, it is not difficult to imagine that we will be reading about stadium construction delays and failed infrastructure promises for World Cup host countries for the next 9 years.  Brazil dodged a potential public relations problem by curing a “bureaucratic failure” and delivering the appropriate safety information to the local regulatory authority in time for Judge dos Santos to lift the injunction.  That is, a friendly between two well-known international teams was not canceled.  But with the 2014 World Cup on the horizon, the Maracaña’s problems are symptomatic of the bigger issue of organizing (and funding) a World Cup.  Russia and Qatar will have the opportunity to learn from South Africa’s and Brazil’s experiences, but whether they learn those lessons–including how to avoid “bureaucratic failures”–remains to be seen.



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