the big (possible) switch

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but World Cup 2014 preparations in Brazil are going horribly. Construction delays are the face of the problems undermining the planning of the event, though the roots of those problems lie much deeper in the Brazilian culture.

brazil's ambitious plans are lagging far behind schedule; will they be able to get everything done by 2014?

Bribery and corruption are near-omnipresent in Brazil, and are likely at the heart of the problems surrounding the lead up to the next Big Show. So ingrained in Brazilian culture are these elements, that not even the country’s most famous son — and borderline demigod –, Pelé,  is exempt of it’s sway and influence. That’s not to mention the country’s enormous crime problem, which undoubtedly also has its roots in these ethical issues in the country’s cultural personality.

Not that we haven’t seen construction delays and budget shortfalls in the run up to major sporting events before, but the sheer volume of work needed to be completed in just over three years makes it a daunting task. According to a report from the Bazilian Audit Court, critical problems are wide ranging:

  • Several host city airports are in danger of not being able to complete renovations in time to handle the massive crowds and increased flights expected in 2014. Work at the Salvador airport has yet to begin due to problems with the bidding process… more or less meaning they haven’t yet figured out who is willing to put in the biggest bribe(s) to land the contract(s).
  • Construction is way behind pace at the stadiums too. The opening match stadium in São Paulo, which would be built and owned by domestic power Corinthians, has yet to even have its design approved by FIFA. The renovations at the renowned Maracana in Rio de Janiero, set to host the final, have only just gotten underway and are already over budget. Officials fear that all 12 locations are currently in a race against time to meet their deadlines.
  • Allegations of misappropriations of public funds for both infrastructure and stadiums are piling up on top of a withdrawal of promised private funds, further compounding issues mentioned above.
  • The stadium in the capital city of Brasília — a planned “city of the future” that was literally cut from the jungle — seats 71,000. However, after the Cup it is likely to sit vacant as the local clubs don’t have large enough followings to fill them. Echoes of post-Cup South Korea in 2002 are ringing in my ears.

After construction delays and rumors that the South Africa finals relied upon the government to fund much more than originally promised, the lack of finalized plans and financial backing at this stage in Brazil is extremely worrisome. With many of the stadia and airport renovations/constructions yet to even start or absent of proper funding, you wouldn’t be off base in wondering whether there is enough time to get it all done.

So the question that begs to be answered is: what happens if they can’t get it all done?

FIFA have luckily already set precedent for that scenario. If need be, they will move major tournaments. The moving of 1986 finals from Columbia to Mexico, where the Columbian drug lords government couldn’t afford to meet FIFA’s ridiculous financial requirements to host, is the most glaring example of a massive change on short notice. More recently, they shifted the 2003 Women’s World Cup host from China to the United States (despite hosting the previous edition) just months before the tournament was to start due to some silly bird flu.

But, do FIFA have the stones to pull the 2014 edition from Brazil if necessary? Let’s first examine why they would not want to pull the trigger on such a move.

The Brazilian federation — and more importantly, their national teams — are the pride and joy of the FIFA’s overall Fair Play initiatives. Lately, the world’s governing body has been masking their evilness by trying to promote the game in third world and underdeveloped nations, many of which have weak international credentials. Despite a majority of Brazil’s population living at or below the poverty level, their national team is the most successful in the world.

The country has become such a proficient player factory, that its citizens literally feed the world’s demand for joga bonito in their own domestic leagues. Perhaps taking a page out of America’s Manifest Destiny mantra, the Brazilians have pulled themselves up by their boots straps to get where they are today. But taking away the marquee event from a country that pride’s itself on the sport would be like a gigantic stomach punch to the entire country.

As for the money that’s already been invested by the government and private parties, pulling the World Cup out would mean that those parties were epically swindled to donate to public works projects with no payout at the end. This could easily create a lack of investing confidence in the country, running the risk of destabalizing one of the fastest growing economies on the planet.

think the rioting in libya is bad? watch what happens if you take a world cup away from a country so passionate about their national sport.

It’s also been ages since a World Cup has been held in Latin America. Since their selection was based on Sepp’s continental rotaion policy — which is meant to be fair to the fans — FIFA would tarnish their already crap image if they go back on their word. Although, maybe that would make more people start to think that FIFA can’t even pick an adequate host for its own main event. Moving the big show would be just another huge black eye for the organization… though they’ve probably grown quite accustomed to that lately.

So if FIFA have all of these reasons to not ship the tournament off to another country, why then would they consider doing it? Just like with everything else FIFA, the answer is likely as simple as money.

As much as they would receive black eye for yanking the Cup from one of it’s most successful member nations, having the Brazilians run a shoddy tournament in inadequate confines would be just as bad. Under Blatter’s guidance, FIFA have built an incredibly strong brand that companies want to utilize for their own advertising initiatives. A poorly run tournament in Brazil could easily tank that incredible value, which would ultimately scare off big money corporate investors for future tournaments.

Sure, Brazil’s economy has been one of the few bright spots in the gloomy global economy. It’s likely the only country in South America who is economy strong enough to host an event of such magnitude. But it sure ain’t the American or Chinese for that matter, either.

It’s a safe assumption to say that the capability for maximizing the value of corporate sponsorship deals for a Brazilian tournament would be drastically smaller than if it were being held in Europe, Asia or North America. Is Brazil’s middle class wealthy enough to compensate for any drop in foreign attendance due to the underdeveloped airports or fear of crime?

Listen, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not an economist. But I can’t imagine that FIFA wouldn’t make more money by moving the tournament from Brazil to a more traditional, Western market. Of course, this likely means more money that could find it’s way into the highly ethical pockets of FIFA Executive Board members. so with the Brazilian tournament seemingly on the path to disaster, why not pull out and place it in a more lucrative location?

we know that brazil can put on a good party... whether they can do the same for a 21st century world cup remains to be seen.

Now, I’m certainly aware that from an American fan’s perspective, this kind of switch would likely be the equivalent of hitting the soccer lottery. There’s little doubt that the US would be the automatic front runner to become the replacement host, edging out the English due to our track record of sort of pulling this off for FIFA in the past. Regardless of which of the two would be chosen as the replacement, it could be seen by many as a move by FIFA to try to mend some bridges after screwing over both associations in the 2018/2022 bidding processes.

Let it be clear, too, that I am not in support of giving us the tournament that is rightly Brazil’s (Though i would certainly take advantage of the situation if it were to work out that way!) unless it’s absolutely necessary. By all means, I’d prefer we give the Samba Boys some time to get their shit together. Because if we’re being honest, a World Cup in Brazil done right could be an absolutely amazing affair. Think Carnival (flair, extravagance, and of  course boobs) combined with the Fan Zones at the Germany 2006 (cheerful socializing, beer and boobs).

Either way, I wouldn’t be surprised if FIFA pulled this move off. Whether their reasoning is for the benefit of the game or for their bank accounts, is another thing all together. And for that reason, let us hope that we don’t ever have to find out.

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