KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY
—- Football did not need another ‘South African-style’ World Cup. This is no disrespect to the Rainbow Nation or the efforts made for the 2009 Confederations Cup and 2010 World Cup finals.
But, with the 2013 Confederations about to start and the 2014 party just under a year away the context is too gloomily familiar. All the more pressure then, on the players of the eight countries, to cast off the fatigue of a long season and turn the image around.
The World Cup (and thus the Confed Cup) should be, after all, more about the football than the infrastructural works.
This is the flagship of world football; the main promotion weapon. Never mind all the education and development programmes. If the World Cup lacks the essential aura and glamour then the inspirational power goes missing and television and sponsors and fans – all impatient – will look elsewhere for their fix.
In 2010 FIFA threw so much effort into making the World Cup ‘work’ that the football was all but forgotten.
To be honest the football was also pretty forgettable.
FIFA can afford such an imbalance once but twice is out of the question. This is the threat posed to world football by the litany of backsliding evident in Brazil’s preparations in both practical and political terms.
Brazil and Japan kicked off the Confed Cup in Brasilia with Jerome Valcke, FIFA’s secretary-general and World Cup progress chaser, conceding that corners had been cut to line up all six stadia.
Meanwhile politicians continue to complain about the cost, about FIFA’s demands and about whether former President Lula sold the country down the financial river in fronting winning bids for both the World Cup and the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
FIFA’s Swiss guard also remains concerned by the failure of local fans to turn up in time to collect their pre-booked match tickets and stadium officials are uncertain how to police the alien concept of numbered seats.
However president Sepp Blatter has remained unfailingly optimistic, saying: “We have been in competitions where, one hour before the head of state arrives, there were still painters painting something.
“There is a lot of work which will be done at the last minute. So for me it is not a surprise that with two days to go they are still working somewhere. It means that something is not finished, so we should just say ‘OK’ and finish it.
“I’ve been directly involved in World Cups since 1978 and I have witnessed a lot of such problems.”
This may not be a career achievement about which to boast.
Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo thinks Brazil has earned a nine out of 10 as a mark for its Confederations Cup preparations. He said: “The tournament is already a success.”
This is despite all the problems with hitting delivery deadlines with the Maracana, teething troubles in Belo Horizonte, roof damage in Salvador, economic stagnation and the fall in popularity polls of President Dilma Rousseff.
This is aside from how large a white elephant the troubled stadium in Manaus will prove and street protests over transport issues in Rio and general Cup development in Brasilia.
Manaus was the last stadium in serious doubt and even that has now been resolved. Fortunately. Earlier this week Valcke conceded: “There is no Plan B. There is no solution other than having all the 12 stadiums ready.”
Rebelo’s “success” story is based on a Confed Cup record of 739,176 tickets already sold with ‘only’ 120,111 to go.
As mentioned above, the issue is not whether Brazil will be ready – in one form or another, the package of Confed Cup and World Cup will go ahead; the issue is the extent to which having continually to kick Brazil up the backside – to adapt Valcke’s comment – will overshadow what it’s supposed to be all about: the football.
On that front Pelé has urged Brazil fans not to jeer the national team if form falls below expectation but to be patient. Other, less convinced old superstars, believe that Neymar’s departure while the going is good – and his value remains sky-high – may prove the wisest decision the South American Footballer of the Year ever made.
Like the stadia Brazil’s own national team are also work in progress.