Is Brazil Ready To Host The World Cup In 2014?

Brazil is known as a soccer-crazed country, and next year, the country is hoping for a sixth championship when it hosts the 2014 World Cup. But amid the excitement, there is much criticism of money spent on the World Cup, and questions about whether Brazil is ready to play host. Melissa Block checks out one of the 12 stadiums to be used in the Cup, Arena Pernambuco outside the northeastern city of Recife, and talk with people who are both elated and angered by the upcoming event.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. All this week, our co-host Melissa Block will be reporting from Brazil. The next few years will showcase Brazil's arrival on the world stage. Next June, Brazil hosts the World Cup, soccer's biggest event. And in 2016, Rio de Janeiro will host the Summer Olympics.

Melissa joins us now from Rio, with a story looking at whether Brazil will be ready. Hi, Melis.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Hey, Robert.

SIEGEL: These games will be a huge moment. Brazil will host the World Cup for the first time since 1950 and two years later, the first Olympics ever to be held in South America - a big deal.

BLOCK: It's a huge deal here in Brazil, Robert. And let's think back to 2009, to the day when Rio was announced as getting the winning bid for the Olympics. Then-President Lula da Silva wept as he started talking about what this meant for his country.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LULA DA SILVA: (Foreign language spoken)

BLOCK: I love this, Robert. Lula is saying: I think the soul of our people, the look of our people, the heat, the swing, the color, the smile of our people are unbeatable. I think that finally, the world has recognized the time has come for Brazil.

And Lula added: Nobody doubts our greatness anymore. But actually, Robert, you do hear a lot of people expressing doubts here in Brazil; a lot of questions about whether the country is going to be ready. And along with those doubts, there's boiling anger over the tens of billions of dollars that Brazil is going to spend to host these games.

SIEGEL: Yes and earlier this year, we saw that anger spill over into the streets.

BLOCK: That's right. There were huge protests back in June around the Confederations Cup Soccer Games here. And let's go now to the streets of Rio, to protests held just over a week ago on Brazilian Independence Day.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHANTING PROTESTERS)

BLOCK: Demonstrators chanted: The cup, the cup; I can give it up. I want more money for health and education. They hoisted signs saying: Stop the corruption. The message on protester Jose Carlos's sign...

JOSE CARLOS: (Foreign language spoken)

BLOCK: There's money for the Olympics, but no money for education.

CARLOS: (Through translator) We have a serious problem in this country with the quality of public education. Schools are being closed, teachers aren't well-paid, school supplies are rationed, all while there's astronomic investment in the Olympics.

ALESANDRO FARIAS DOS SANTOS: (Foreign language spoken)

BLOCK: Another protester, Alesandro Farias dos Santos, who lives near Rio's airport, complained that everyone in his fishing community is being displaced because they're building a new runway to accommodate all the planes that will bring fans to the games. The Rio protesters were met with tear gas and rubber bullets.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHOTS)

BLOCK: OK, fast forward to next June. The World Cup games will be held in 12 cities around Brazil, from the Amazon to the Atlantic Coast. Six stadiums are done, but six are still construction sites. Just last month, Brazil's sports minister warned they'll have to pick up the pace, or they won't be finished in time.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVING VEHICLE)

BLOCK: And as for Brazil's notoriously antiquated roads, well, let's take a drive.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVING VEHICLE)

BLOCK: We are heading out to one of the World Cup stadiums. This is the Arena Pernambuco, outside the city of Recife. It's about 12 miles outside the city. We're in bumper-to-bumper traffic; it has ground to a halt.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVING VEHICLE)

BLOCK: When traffic gets unstuck, we finally see it: a gleaming, silver oval set among rolling hills. The Pernambuco Stadium is a World Cup success story - it's finished. In fact, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff came here in May to inaugurate it, kicking a ceremonial goal in heels.

SILVIO BOMPASTOR: (Foreign language spoken)

BLOCK: So we're heading to the field. I walk out onto the turf alongside the field, and look up at tiers of bright red seats. Well, here we are at Arena Pernambuco. It's a beautiful, sunny day, and the grass is beautifully green and fresh. The stadium is empty, but there will be 46,000 people in here.

BOMPASTOR: (Foreign language spoken)

BLOCK: Total cost of this one stadium - about a quarter of a billion dollars. Silvio Bompastor, with the agency in charge of the World Cup for the state of Pernambuco, tells me they'll be ready, without a doubt.

BOMPASTOR: (Foreign language spoken)

BLOCK: Actually, he says the stadium was finished ahead of schedule, built by 5,000 workers who said daily prayers asking for protection against construction accidents.

BOMPASTOR: (Foreign language spoken)

BLOCK: Bompastor remembers coming to this site three years ago when it was still a village, with fish farms. As for which teams Bompastor would like to see play here during the World Cup?

BOMPASTOR: (Foreign language spoken)

BLOCK: We want teams with a great tradition of soccer except, he says, arch-rival Argentina.

With a sly grin, Bompastor says he wants them sent off to play in the Amazon, in Manaus.

BOMPASTOR: (Foreign language spoken)

BLOCK: (Laughter) You're sending Argentina to Manaus because it's really far away, and it's really hot.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVING VEHICLE)

BLOCK: In the neighboring city of Camaragibe, we meet a number of people whose lives have been turned upside down by the Cup.

LUCIANO NASCIMETO: (Foreign language spoken)

BLOCK: Oh, can we go?

NASCIMETO: (Foreign language spoken)

BLOCK: Luciano Nascimento owns a furniture store called Mega Luck. But it's his bad luck that his store is right in the path of a new bus line designed to bring fans to the stadium. This store will be torn down. He's getting about $40,000 in compensation. Not enough, he says. And he'll have to move to a worse neighborhood - away from this busy, main shopping zone.

NASCIMETO: (Foreign language spoken)

BLOCK: The heart of the commercial district is right here.

NASCIMETO: (Foreign language spoken)

BLOCK: And they're killing it.

NASCIMETO: (Foreign language spoken)

BLOCK: Unfortunately.

Are you excited about the World Cup?

NASCIMETO: No.

BLOCK: No, not at all.

NASCIMETO: (Foreign language spoken)

BLOCK: You're sad. Will you watch?

NASCIMETO: No.

BLOCK: You're not going to watch the World Cup? Really?

NASCIMETO: No.

BLOCK: Why not?

NASCIMETO: (Through translator) I know that the country needs progress. But the way that it's all being done has been very inhumane. There is a huge lack of respect for us.

BLOCK: We hear a very different story at a restaurant on a hill near the stadium, Bode do Mundinho, where the specialty is...

MARIA LINDA ALBUQUERQUE: (Foreign language spoken)

BLOCK: Goat.

ALBUQUERQUE: (Foreign language spoken)

BLOCK: Goat stewed, grilled, roasted, parmesan - every which way. The restaurant owner, Maria Linda Albuquerque, tells me her restaurant used to be right where the stadium was built. They were paid to move and she's thrilled with the change. The restaurant has almost twice as many tables now and they're expanding even more. I watch workers painting the frame for an addition.

ALBUQUERQUE: (Foreign language spoken)

BLOCK: It's definitely a good thing, she tells me. We have more people visiting the area. They can come by bus now, any day of the week. Business is up 50 percent.

ALBUQUERQUE: (Foreign language spoken)

BLOCK: What about the World Cup? Will that be good for business?

(LAUGHTER)

ALBUQUERQUE: (Foreign language spoken)

BLOCK: Very much.

ALBUQUERQUE: (Foreign language spoken)

(LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: I have no doubts, she says.

But what about after the Cup? Many people here tell me these stadiums are going to become white elephants. In fact, the night we visit Pernambuco, a local club game attracts just 6,800 fans, leaving the stadium about 85 percent empty.

Back in Rio, I ask sports journalist Thiago Dias if he thinks Brazil will be ready for the World Cup come next June.

THIAGO DIAS: We don't believe it's going to be ready. But when we get there, everything's going to work.

BLOCK: Really? You're confident that everything is going to work.

DIAS: Magic, yeah.

BLOCK: It's magic.

DIAS: Yeah. These stadiums, the games going to work. But we're probably going to have problems in the airports. There's going to be problems there, for sure.

BLOCK: So the stadiums will be good to go, Dias says. But not the infrastructure the people were promised.

DIAS: It's something that we are complaining a lot here. When the World Cup finish, what we going to have? Only stadiums. They promised - that's a lot of things; that there's going to be better roads, better airports, better subway, better bus service - we're not.

BLOCK: You're not seeing any of that - better roads, better buses...

DIAS: No. No.

BLOCK: Nothing.

DIAS: Nothing, only stadium.

BLOCK: And the price of those World Cup stadiums has exploded. The arenas alone have ended up costing nearly 300 percent more than was planned - nearly $4 billion total and growing.

We end our story with a bit of Brazilian soccer lingo. All this week, we're going to learn some Portuguese words, phrases or expressions that tell us something about Brazilian culture. And today, the word from Thiago Dias is...

DIAS: Hexacampeao, six-time champions.

BLOCK: Or for short...

DIAS: Hexa.

BLOCK: Hexa. Brazil already has five World Cup championships to its name, more than any other country. So right now, they're a pentacampeao, but nobody's satisfied with that.

DIAS: Now, we are penta and everyone dreams about hexa. You are gonna hear that a lot. We are gonna be hexa, hexa, six-time champion. We are gonna be hexacampeao. It's the hexa. It's the time for hexa.

BLOCK: That's the expectation.

DIAS: Yeah, expectation.

(LAUGHTER)

DIAS: Hexa expectation.

BLOCK: So Robert, great hexpectations for next year's World Cup.

SIEGEL: OK, Melissa. That's our co-host Melissa Block, and she's reporting all this week from Brazil. You can get a behind-the-scenes look at her adventures on Tumblr. It's ConsideringBrazil.tumblr.com.

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