March 20, 2014 1:12 am

Brazil minister admits sport events shortcomings

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Brazil should have been better prepared for this year’s World Cup and has also been too slow in getting ready for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, the country’s sports minister has admitted.

The frank admission from Aldo Rebelo marks a shift in tone from the Brazilian government from its consistently defiant message that it was on top of the task of hosting the world’s next two biggest sporting events.

Asked in an FT interview what Brazil would have done differently when it was awarded the World Cup seven years ago, Mr Rebelo said: “We would have taken better advantage of the time because the decisions would not be different.

“We would be hosting the World Cup in 12 cities, probably in the very same ones that were chosen at the time . . . Yes, we could have used the time better.”

The minister said he did not anticipate problems in the Rio 2016 preparations, “provided that we do not waste the only asset that you can never recover, which is time”.

Asked if Brazil had wasted too much time preparing for Rio 2016, he said via an interpreter: “On these things, time always suffers . . . Not too much [time had been wasted], but we have wasted some time.”

Fifa and the International Olympic Committee have grown increasingly exasperated at Brazil’s preparations. Three stadiums for the World Cup, which begins on June 12, remain unfinished, and several public transportation projects linked to the tournament have been abandoned.

Fifa has repeatedly clashed with organisers and president Sepp Blatter last year openly questioned whether it had been a good idea to award the World Cup to Brazil.

The IOC warned last month that the Rio organisers required “constant supervision” and its president, Thomas Bach, said after a meeting with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff in January that there was “no time to lose”.

Mr Rebelo agreed that Brazil had left it very late to complete the remaining World Cup stadiums. “But in real life, when you leave the soap opera plot, that’s what happens,” he said.

Despite delays in completing airport infrastructure, Mr Rebelo said fans would be able to fly between Brazilian host cities “with all possible ease” and that airport capacity would be 50 per cent higher than forecast demand.

“Our problem is in the operations of the airports, the time that people take to disembark, to get their luggage, print or take their tickets . . . It is not the capacity of the airports that is a problem,” he said.

After mass protests against the World Cup during last year’s dress rehearsal, the Confederations Cup, public support for this year’s tournament has declined. Mr Rebelo said there was a difference between levels of support in host cities, which he said was high, and elsewhere in Brazil.

“It is true that in other cities there is not the same degree of enthusiasm and neither is there the same level of enthusiasm of the people of Manaus for the World Cup of the other states – so the people tend to support their own World Cup,” said the minister.

He believed protests during the tournament would be limited to “isolated actions”.

The source of last year’s protests, the costs of the World Cup to Brazil and the government’s failure to provide “Fifa-standard” schools and hospitals, was inspired by the opposition fuelling “ideological, political and electoral debate”, the minister claimed.

He put the overall cost to the government at up to R25bn, which he said was below an original estimate of up to R30bn – lower because some construction projects were abandoned.

Although Brazil had greatly increased the sports ministry’s budget, he argued it was less than 1 per cent of the budget for health and education.

Asked if Fifa’s demands were too much, Mr Rebelo said Brazil had succeeded in removing certain requirements such as support facilities.

“We examined those – this can be taken out, that can be cut short, or something. The customer can always seek out a discount,” said Mr Rebelo. The same was equally true when it came to dealing with the IOC, he added.

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