|The one thing the Brazilians can guarantee is a good party [EPA]
With the sun setting on the 2010 World Cup, the focus now shifts to Brazil - host of the 2014 World Cup. South America's largest country will host the tournament for the second time - the first was in 1950. It will be the first time two consecutive World Cups are held in countries from the southern hemisphere.
Brazil won its bid, in part, thanks to ambitious plans to make it a truly nationwide event, hosting games in 12 different cities spread out all over the country - Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Curitiba, Porto Alegre, Belo Horizonte, Brasilia, Cuiaba, Salvador, Recife, Natal, Fortaleza, Manaus. South Africa, by comparison, hosted games in nine cities.
Brazil has a monumental task ahead and as the saying goes "the clock is ticking". By one estimate $40bn will be invested in Brazilian host cities between now and 2014.
Now as attention shifts from the land of vuvuzelas to the land of samba, the obvious first question is: How are preparations moving along in Brazil? The short answer is not as well as many would like. On almost all fronts, you have to squint hard to see any good news.
Ricardo Capriotti, a São Paulo-based sports commentator for Radio Bandeirantes and BAND Sports, gave this gloomy outlook: "Everything is behind schedule. We have absolutely nothing ready. We don't have any stadium even close to being ideal or ready for a World Cup game yet.
"The infrastructure of the country needs a shock; the airports need to go through a process of renovation and expansion. The infrastructure of the roads of many of the host cities needs to have a shock improvement as well. With hotels, many host cities need to start to begin to think about this. In many, ways we are raw, and behind schedule. It's a situation that is, in my opinion, very worrisome."
Capriotti points out that Brazil actually needs to be ready by 2013, as that is when the Fifa Confederations Cup - considered to be a test for the World Cup - will be held in the country.
Now is as good a time as ever to examine more closely key aspects of Brazil's preparations. Here is where things stand two years and nine months after the Brazilian host cities were chosen and why people like Capriotti are so anxious.
|Officials fear Brazil lacks enough runway space to handle the influx of visitors [GALLO/GETTY]
Last Thursday Ricardo Teixeira - the all-powerful, longtime boss of the Brazilian Football Federation or CBF - was asked by a reporter in Johannesburg to list the three biggest problems facing Brazilian preparations for 2014. His answer could not be clearer. "I have always said the three biggest problems we have are airports, airports and airports," Teixeira said plainly.
There are so many problems with the Brazilian airport system it is hard to know where to start.
Firstly, Rio's international airport, known as Galeão (its formal name is Carlos Jobim International Airport), is almost 40 years old and it looks, feels and operates every bit its age - if not older.
Rio's domestic airport, Santos Dumont, has a relatively airy new check-in terminal but has restricted gate space for planes - so it is maxed out with no options for expanding its two runways.
São Paulo's international airport, known to most as Guarulhos, (official name Governor Andre Franco Montoro International Airport) has by far the best direct, international connections to North America, Europe, Asia and Africa of any airport in South America, but that is about all it has going for it. It is already overworked - built to handle 17 million passengers annually, last year 21.7 million passengers passed through it.
São Paulo's domestic airport, Congonhas, which sits in the middle of the city's high rises, handled 13 million passengers last year and has no room for expansion. It too is old and maxed out, with all gates occupied and no room for expansion.
Orlando Silva, Brazil's minister of sports, has said that eight of the 12 host cities' airports are already operating at maximum capacity.
Jaime Henrique Caldas Perreira, a director at the government agency INFRAERO that administers Brazilian commercial airports, said all 16 airports that will be used by the 12 host cities in 2014 will need investment in order to get them ready for 2014.
More than $2.5bn has been set aside for airport renovations, including new terminals. But I am told that a top concern, even more than new terminals, is a lack of gate and runway space to handle the influx of charters, private, and corporate jets. If the matches were held in Brazil tomorrow, many of the airports - particularly in medium sized cities - would simply have nowhere for chartered flights to park.
When compared to other comparable cities, Brazil's largest airports do not stand up. São Paulo's Guarulhos, the country's largest and most important airport, has two terminals and two runways. According to a new ranking by aviation consultancy Skytrax, Brazil's best airport (São Paulo Guarulhos) only ranks 121st in the world. Rio's Galeão is in 151st place.
The two most heavily used Brazilian carriers, TAM and GOL/Varig, are rapidly trying to improve their systems to get ready for 2014. TAM recently joined the Star Alliance network which is a move in the right direction. But on any given day these two airlines can be thrown into chaos by "system crashes" in the check-in computers.
Things have been getting better on this front in the past year or so, but the airlines themselves are straddled with an overworked system that seems to be running dangerously close to the edge of a cliff.
From a big picture standpoint, many analysts say the underlining problem is that all Brazilian commercial airports are administered by the heavy bureaucracy of the federal government under an agency called INFRAERO. Critics say Brazil is badly in need of a privately run airport to improve efficiency. And the air traffic control system is run by the Air Force, a relic from the country's military dictatorship.
|Renovation work has been delayed on many of Brazil's stadiums [EPA]
Seven of the 12 host cities have stadiums whose renovation is already delayed, where construction has not even started or where plans are still undefined.
The worst situation is in São Paulo. With a population of 11 million and a metro area encompassing nearly 20 million, São Paulo is not only the largest city in Brazil but also in South America. It is the financial capital of South America, generating 33 per cent of Brazil's total GDP.
It was previously announced that São Paulo's best football venue, Morumbi stadium - home to São Paulo Football Club - would open the 2014 World Cup in grand style. But a couple of weeks ago the Brazilian Football Federation announced that Morumbi had been ruled out as a venue for any of the World Cup matches because deadlines to present adequate financing for Fifa-demanded renovations had not been met. Most Brazilians see this not so much as a financing issue as a political tug-of-war between powerful interests who would rather see a new stadium built.
São Paulo has two other major stadiums, but both were deemed unsuitable for World Cup games.
Attention has now shifted to working out how to build a new stadium, but no source of funding or location has yet been identified. The mayor has said that no public money will be used to build a new facility. Bottom line: If the World Cup was to be held next week (or next month) in Brazil, no games would be held in the most important city in the country.
"It's ridiculous São Paulo still doesn't have plans to host games in place," Capriotti says. "That is like Frankfurt not being included in a World Cup in Germany, or a World Cup in the United States without New York, or a World Cup in France without Paris."
São Paulo's mayor went to South Africa this month to plead with Fifa officials to try to figure out how to help address this situation, but by all accounts the talks did not go well.
But the problems go beyond São Paulo. Renovation work has yet to begin on Rio's famous Maracanã stadium, which will host the 2014 finals. The stadium is the largest venue in South America with a seating capacity that has been "reduced" over the years to more than 80,000.
It was built in 1950 and has gone through numerous renovations over the years, but now there are plans to, among other things, build a new roof that will extend over the seating areas which will also be completely rebuilt.
Officials say that even though work has not yet started they are not behind schedule, but are close to reaching that point because promised financing (more than $300mn) has not been released.
"Construction depends on the influx of money," Hudson Braga, the Rio state construction secretary, recently told a Brazilian newspaper. "With money, the [project] will be finished on time."
In the city of Curitiba, plans are apparently moving so slowly that the head of the Brazilian Football Federation publicly told the city to get its act together or risk having their host city status removed.
In Recife, the plan to build a new stadium has been delayed by a hold up in environmental permits, with serious consideration now being given to a new plan that would involve renovating existing stadiums.
Many of the other host cities are in the final stages of selecting which construction company will do stadium renovations or build new venues. But plans have been slowed down as state and city officials in some host cities seek assurances that the state government will not be lumbered with stadium costs when the World Cup is over. There has been lots of talk about trying to avoid having a bunch of "white elephants" dotting Brazil.
Of the 12 host cities, only three (Manaus - population 1.7 million; Cuiaba - population 544,000; Belo Horizonte - population 2.4 million) are on or ahead of schedule for stadium preparations.
|Hundreds of kilometres separate Brazil's
host cities [EPA]
Aside from the major worry about the state of airports, there are other concerns about transportation within Brazil and how to move millions of people between 12 different cities in a country that is about the size of the US.
Brazil is a huge country and there are hundreds of kilometres separating the closest host cities. Fifa already sees this as an issue, and has decided to divide the country into four regions to try to manage this problem.
In all 12 of the host cities there are plans to expand highways and roads, add new metro or bus lines, and in some cases build new ports for passenger cruise ships. There is a long list of proposed projects that will collectively cost billions of dollars. But dividing up the financing, between state, federal, and private sources has been a slow and difficult process. In most cases, proposed projects are still stuck in government bureaucracy.
There are plans to build a high speed "bullet train" line between São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro - the first in South America - but the builder of the project has yet to be selected, and it is most likely going to be ready for the 2016 Olympics in Rio not the 2014 World Cup.
Last November, a Brazilian power grid went offline cutting off power to Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and parts of 10 states for several hours. It affected tens of millions of people, and raised concerns that the country's power grid is vulnerable.
A consortium of government agencies will meet in São Paulo late next month to discuss infrastructure issues and how to resolve them.
|More than $2.5bn has been set aside for airport renovations [GALLO/GETTY]
The outlook on this front is not quite as bad for major cities such as Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, both of which are accustomed to hosting major international events. Still, Rio is in need of about 8,000 new beds before 2014, according to hospitality officials.
The host cities combined urgently need as many as 30,000 new beds. Three major hotels that had been abandoned in the city of Rio have now been purchased and in the process of being renovated.
But the hotel issue will be most acute in medium sized host cities - 10 of the 12. These cities lack quality hotels that meet discerning international standards. In the city of Manaus, for example, you can count on one hand the number of very high quality hotels. The same goes for cities like Cuiaba, Recife, and Salvador. Again, lots of rooms in these cities, just not high quality ones.
During big events in medium sized Brazilian cities, the few best hotels fill up quickly, leaving everyone else picking between hotels that are great when you are on a budget or backpacking across Latin America, but probably not where sponsors want to send clients, or teams want to house athletes.
Brasilia, the capital, is particularly bad off. Industry experts say the city needs 10,000 new beds, more than any other host city. At first glance it seems like the city has a lot of hotels, but many of these are occupied on a long-term basis by government workers who live in other states and have temporary housing during the week in Brasilia. This limits the number of rooms available for tourists.
Brazil recognises the problems posed by the insufficient number of hotels. In Belo Horizonte, for example, 30 new hotels are planned for the next three years. And Brazil's development bank, BNDES, has received requests for over $500mn in financing for World Cup-related hotel projects.
|Lula has said that criticism of Brazil's preparations so far is 'pointless' [EPA]
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Brazil's president, has said that any criticism of Brazil's 2014 preparations is "pointless" at this early stage. He insinuated that much of the criticism was similar to that heard in the run-up to South Africa's World Cup and is rooted in the belief that developing countries are not as capable as rich countries at organising major sporting events.
"The [World] Cup [in South Africa] served to end this image," Lula said in front of a group of prominent South Africans and others.
"They asked: 'Will Africa have airports? How are people going to walk on the streets? Will apartheid be over? Will there be security? But you have shown to the world [that developing countries] are more civilized than the rich countries."
"Now the doubts have started with Brazil. Are the airports going to be ready? Are there going to be bus lanes? Will the stadiums ready? We want to do the best World Cup, right after South Africa."
Lula confirmed that investments in Brazilian infrastructure between now and 2014 will total more than $600bn, more than has been "invested in the past 30 years".
"We don't want to do a World Cup where people leave saying their plane was not able to land because of a hole in the runway," he said.
Is there any good news?
The short answer is yes. Brazil was chosen to host the World Cup and 2016 Olympics for a good reason. Despite all the early setbacks preparing for 2014, Brazil has $239mn accumulated in reserves and its development bank is one of the worlds wealthiest.
By nearly all estimates, the middle class has grown, and poverty fallen to record levels in the past few years.
Brazil has arrived on the world stage and will likely never look back at the old days when it was considered a developing power underachiever.
Jose Claudio Pedro da Silva, a São Paulo resident and football fan, said: "I think things with 2014 preparations will move forward. We have all the components to get it right. But are we ready? Not yet. But if South Africa managed to do it, we can do it too." This sums up the Brazilian attitude 'on the streets' very well.
There is one even grander reason why there is good news to take away. Despite the delays, the 2014 World Cup will be held in a country that always rises to an occasion and delivers a good party when it matters most. 2014 will be no different. And that is one thing I can guarantee.