In 1950, Brazilians suffered what one playwright dubbed the "Hiroshima tragedy." With 11 minutes left in the World Cup final, Uruguayan footballer Alcides Ghiggia kicked the ball past Brazil’s goalkeeper, Moacir Barbosa. Ghiggia’s goal silenced a crowd of nearly 200,000 at Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana stadium and delivered a crushing defeat to the host nation. Barbosa agonized over the loss for the rest of his life.
As Brazil gears up to host the World Cup for the second time, in 2014, it could be setting itself up for another embarrassing defeat at Maracana -- this time because the stadium may not be refurbished in time to host any games. Veja Magazine projects that at the current pace of construction the stadium will be ready for kickoff in … 2038.
Maracana is not alone. With only 36 months to go, Brazil is set to outdo South Africa for pre-World Cup chaos.
Orlando Silva Jr., the sports minister, has said that construction will be sped up and that investment for the Cup -- both public and private -- will reach $28.7 billion. Good news, right?
"Almost 60 percent of the population have said they are against investments in stadiums for the World Cup, showing that the public isn't so easily lured by 'bread and circuses,' " as Blog do Navarro, a Sao Paulo football site, put it. "What's more important than the stadium is that it would be nice to get a return from the heavy tax burden that the people of Brazil pay, through quality public services."
Perhaps because they've been burned before. The last time Brazil hosted a global sporting event -- the 2007 Pan American Games, in Rio de Janeiro -- the final price tag ended up being ten times the original budget, a result of what was said to be a corrupt and inefficient bureaucracy.
"Emergencies open up loopholes, which could lead to higher budgets or double the budget," Jorge Abrahao, president of the Ethos Institute, told the magazine Exame.
According to calculations by the newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo, the cost of building stadiums in the 12 host cities has jumped 56 percent in the past two years, to $4.15 billion. And three cities -- Natal, Sao Paulo and Curitiba -- haven't even started work on their stadiums.
The ever-growing price tag for Maracana's facelift has sparked an investigation by the Federal Public Ministry, an oversight body, which suspects the Public Works Department of overpricing the project.
"Dear Ms. President," wrote O Estado de Sao Paulo columnist Daniel Piza in an open letter to Brazil's president criticizing the construction delays :
"Reconstruction on Maracana will cost R$1 billion and at a delayed pace -- and, as I wrote and as you well know, rushing is a friend of corruption -- and it fills us with embarrassment. Sao Paulo will not participate in the Confederations Cup in 2013, and it's running the risk of having the stadium ready just in time for 2014. The Corinthians' stadium, Itaquera, also at a cost of nearly R$1 billion, is another disgrace. Not even in South Africa did things play out with so much inefficiency and suspicion."
“I follow the protocols that have been signed between the federal government, state governments and municipalities surrounding the World Cup," said Raquel Rolnik, a special rapporteur on housing for the UN Human Rights Council, who has been blogging about the evictions for months. She felt the compensation the government was offering displaced families was completely insufficient. "My biggest fear is that most families simply get the 'check-dump.' They get a check, sometimes R$8,000, R$5,000, R$3,000. We all know that this is absolutely insufficient to even buy a shack in a slum.”
Many Brazilians are embarrassed by the delays and accusations of corruption and injustice. Some blame the Workers' Party, which has been in power since 2003, and especially its decision to host the games in 12 cities, rather than the eight to 10 typically required by FIFA.
"Brazil has already done a stupid thing," wrote Veja columnist Reinaldo Azevedo. He blamed Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Brazil's previous president, for spreading the games to so many cities for populist political reasons, and "drastically bringing up the price." There are widespread fears that stadiums in less populous and more remote cities might turn out to be "white elephants" after the cup is over.
If Brazil even gets there. No less a figure than Pele, the soccer great, expressed his doubts about the country being ready for the soccerfest."It's not good to remember, but in the last World Cup we hosted, we lost," he said. "Now that we have a great chance to recover, will we not be able to do a World Cup?"
His comments carried such force that they brought a response from Ronaldo, another Brazilian great. The preparations, Ronaldo said, were just following jeitinho brasileiro -- the Brazilian way.
Given the success of that strategy against the Netherlands in the 2010 World Cup quarterfinals, they might want to think again.
(Sheena Rossiter is a journalist based in Sao Paulo and a contributor to the World View blog. The opinions expressed are her own.)