By Robbie Blakeley, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – With the 2010 FIFA World Cup now firmly consigned to memory, and not a happy one for most Brazilians, focus in the country has shifted swiftly to their preparations for the 2014 event, when they host the championships for the first time since 1950.
The most pressing issues are the current state of some of Brazil’s stadiums earmarked to host the biggest prize in football in four years time. Twelve cities are lined up for the sports’ biggest show in 46 months time; Belo Horizonte, Brasilia, Cuiaba, Curitiba, Fortaleza, Manaus, Natal, Porto Alegre, Recife, Salvador, São Paulo, and Rio de Janeiro. So far, however, not one of these has a stadium that is up to standard.
Major renovation works are needed on Belo Horizonte’s Minerão and Brasilia’s Mane Garrincha stadiums, and in Porto Alegre plans are underfoot not only to modernize Internacional’s Beira-Rio home ground, but the entire riverfront beside it. Meanwhile, stadiums in Recife, Natal, Curitiba and Cuiabá need to be built from scratch.
“From July 12th onwards, we [Brazil] will become the focus. We have to quicken our pace”,’ said Brazilian sports minister Orlando Silva. With the clock ticking, building work needs to start sooner rather than later, as the majority of the projects are looking at a two year time scale for completion.
By way of comparison, Wembley Stadium in London was closed in 2000 for a total rebuild and earmarked to be ready in 2003. In fact, full demolition did not even occur until 2003, and the revised opening date of May 2006 was further delayed until Spring 2007, when it finally hosted the FA Cup Final that year. Such are the huge delays that can be faced by public works projects but of course, in the case of the World Cup, delays are simply not acceptable.
The world famous Maracanã stadium in Rio where the 2014 final will be held was initially scheduled to be closed from July 2010 for a period of two to two and a half years for renovation works. The government announced the plan before the start of the 2010 Brasilerão Championship, meaning Flamengo and Fluminense would need to play home matches at Botafogo’s Engenhão or Vasco’s São Januario stadiums. Yet the Maracanã remains open, and there is no confirmed date for its closure.
The sheer volume of matches to be played means picking a time to close a major stadium will create countless obstacles. Rio has four teams competing in Série A, and to close a venue where two of those teams play their home games in the middle of the season would likely cause chaos. So the circus rumbles on with no indication of when the Maracanã will be able to be renovated.
Such problems stretch far beyond Rio de Janeiro, however. In May The Rio Times reported that work on São Paulo’s Morumbí stadium was already underway, but the CBF – Brazil’s Football Federation – have now cast it off the list of potential World Cup venues. City ministers are currently speculating which foot to put forward, but no firm decision has been taken.
“At times like this you have to hit the hammer. The worst thing is doubt. Maybe you won’t make the best decision but you have to decide,” urged minister Marcio Fortes.
With so much work still to be done, it is possible the number of host cities will be cut from twelve to ten, with São Paulo one potential casualty, an unthinkable idea for Brazil’s biggest city when their bid was accepted and still one surely that will not come to pass.
Yet the light at the end of the tunnel should only be seen once the World Cup party has disbanded. With money being pumped into new stadiums which will rival some of Europe’s biggest names, a great Brazilian legacy can and probably will be left behind. In Porto Alegre, the idea of Internacional and Gremio sharing the renovated Beira Rio, and other grounds in relative football backwaters like Brasilia and Natal being used for other sporting events will mean all the work will not just be for a four week football frenzy. This, and of course a successful tournament, are the goals, but just for now they seem some way off still.