26 October ~ The scheduling of the 2014 World Cup was announced by FIFA at the end of last week. It seems to have been drawn up with the commercial and political interests of FIFA and the Brazilian football federation (CBF) in mind. But the principal underwriter of the event, the Brazilian government, has several sticking points to resolve. Brazil will only play at the Maracanã in Rio de Janeiro should they reach the final: tempting fate, given the national team's recent modest form. It is also bizarre, given the spiralling cost of modernisation and the long tradition of hosts playing at the national stadium.
The decision was labelled "an absurd error" by the respected pundit and World Cup-winner Tostão in the newspaper Folha de São Paulo. He added that even a one-game guarantee would be a paltry return for the Maracanã. But this is just the latest snub: Brazil played no games at the stadium from September 2000 to October 2007 and the CBF president, Ricardo Teixeira, notoriously called for its demolition.
São Paulo has also generated controversy. In cahoots with FIFA, the CBF rejected using the city's main stadium, the Morumbi, as a venue and instead backed the construction of a new stadium for Corinthians, which will host the opening game. Corinthians have become the new darlings of the Brazilian football establishment, with their president serving as Brazil's head of delegation at the 2010 World Cup. The CBF also appointed the club coach Mano Menezes to succeed Dunga as national team boss in August 2010.
Brazil will also play finals matches in Belo Horizonte and Fortaleza, where major allies of Teixeira are based. However, Porto Alegre, the political base of Brazil's new president Dilma Rouseff, only gets four group games and a last-16 tie, having also been excluded from the 2013 Confederations Cup.
This looks like petty vengeance following a spat at the World Cup qualifying draw in July. Rouseff took Pelé along as a personal guest after the Local Organising Committee had somehow managed to avoid inviting the most famous Brazilian of all time. There was also a broader concern that the government was being marginalised in World Cup planning, despite bankrolling the tournament.
Six different venues for each group spreads the World Cup around but creates extra burdens on Brazil's creaking transport infrastructure. Equally irrational is the insistence on 12 venues – four more than the FIFA minimum – in a time of world economic downturn and with ongoing doubts about white elephants in the cities of Cuiaba and Manaus, which have no professional football of any stature. A cost-effective alternative would have been for Rio and São Paulo to provide two stadiums each.
FIFA has also sought to pressurise Brazil to pass the Lei General da Copa (General Law of the Cup) – empowering legislation that allows FIFA freedom of action and tax-free status in host countries. Among the sticking points for Brazilian politicians are half-price tickets for concessionary groups such as pensioners.
To complicate matters further Brazil's sports minister Orlando Silva is now in hot water after the magazine Veja published a story that alleged he was involved in corruption linked to NGO sports projects. He is said to have taken a hefty slice of the funds allocated under the government's Segundo Tempo (Second Half) initiative, designed to enhance sports provision for children in a country where most children attend school for either a morning or afternoon each day. Silva, backed by President Rouseff for now, may only enjoy a temporary reprieve before the anti-corruption clean-up sweeps him aside from Brazil's World Cup plans. Robert Shaw