World Cup 2014: a balls-up for the Brazilian economy

Will Hodges explains what's gone wrong with the host's preparations for kick-off

The World Cup was supposed to be a showpiece for Brazil's impressive economic advancement over the past fifteen years.

But three words sum up the country's fears about the World Cup this summer. "Não estamos prontos!" - we're not ready! - screams the headline in national newspaper Estadão.

While excitement steadily builds in anticipation of football returning to one of its symbolic homes in South America's largest country, there are real concerns that the facilities needed to support the world's largest sporting event won't be in place by the time the first ball is kicked on 12 June.

Showpiece or shown up?

FIFA's president Sepp Blatter said in January that the country was further behind in its preparations than any other host nation had been during his 40-year involvement in the game.

Blatter's damning indictment seems well founded: several months on and construction has still not been completed at several of the twelve stadiums due to host matches.

Infra penny, infra pound

It's not just expensive, half-finished stadiums making the organisers sweat.

The country's gaping infrastructure deficit has been identified as a major concern in the lead-up to the tournament. Crumbling transport links are expected to be stretched to the limit by the arrival of several million foreign visitors.

Despite considerable government investment over recent years, the World Bank has the country's transport infrastructure languishing in 114th place out the 148 states surveyed in its 2013 Global Competitiveness Report. That's slightly behind Ethiopia and Nicaragua and some 20 places lower than Ghana and Ivory Coast.

Worse still, the quality of the country's road network ranks in 120th place while its air transport infrastructure lies in position 123.

$8 billion (£4.7 million) in government funds was supposedly set aside to bridge the deficit in time for the World Cup.

Renovations were promised at 56 airports across the country, including a new runway for Rio de Janeiro's main terminal that hasn't been built. Meanwhile, plans to introduce subway systems in other cities have been either delayed or abandoned.

The World Bank has identified poor infrastructure as the biggest impediment to doing business in Brazil, making it twice as damaging as the country's high level of corruption.

Public humiliation

Bricks and mortar aside, one of the biggest challenges facing the government has been getting the public onside.

Hostility towards major sporting events is nothing new - the razing of shanty towns to make way for the 2010 World Cup caused considerable outcry in South Africa - but few expected such vehement opposition in sport-loving Brazil.

The Confederations Cup however, the soccer tournament held in Brazil last summer as a precursor to the World Cup, attracted large-scale protests outside several stadiums.

Demonstrators, the majority in their 20s and 30s, used the media attention the tournament attracted to denounce government corruption, soaring prices, and the standard of the country's schools and hospitals. Poor public services could no longer be reconciled with tax rates and a cost of living comparable with those of most western European nations.

Strong feelings

While tensions have subsided in the intervening 10 months, the ill-feeling held by the Brazilian people towards the government is unlikely to have gone away.

Many citizens are angered that huge amounts of public money are being used to finance glamorous venues that are likely to remain vacant once the tournament concludes in July.

Recent construction worker deaths, including at the flagship Arena Corinthians in São Paulo, have been blamed on poor management of preparations by the government.

"Brazil is experiencing a mix of conflicting feelings towards the impending World Cup," says Victor Fraga, a Brazilian journalist based in the UK who writes a column for [Jungle]( ), a publication dedicated to Brazilian and Latin American culture in London and the rest of Britain.

"On one hand, zeal and national allegiances mandate that people support the 'Seleção' [Brazil's football team]; on the other hand, many people believe that this is the perfect opportunity to make their woes heard, and remind the world that Brazil isn't all carnival and football."