World Cup local organising committee CEO Ricardo Trade says Brazilians have a perfect right to demonstrate during the tournament, as long as it doesn’t spill over to mistreatment of tourists.
It is just over six months ahead of Brazil’s first World Cup since 1950, a mammoth logistical undertaking for the giant country of 200 million people.
Asked how months of protests at the huge cost, put at around $15 billion (11.2 billion euros), of staging the tournament in 12 cities had affected preparations thus far, Trade told AFP he understood those marching in the streets.
“The protests are democratic in a democratic country — save for the violence, which nobody wants to see,” said Trade, speaking from his headquarters just outside Rio where his team can monitor progress on the venues 24 hours a day.
“They (protesters) are demanding health, security, schools, education — these are legitimate public desires.
“We don’t know what will happen during the Cup,” said Trade. But he stressed that Brazilians overwhelmingly backed staging the event.
“A recent poll showed that more than 70 percent of Brazilians back the World Cup and think it is good Brazil is hosting it,” even if a vocal minority are opposed.
Asked what his message would be to demonstrators, Trade said: “Protest for what you believe is fair; the country is growing and needs to do better in terms of social inequality. But let’s not forget that we are bringing over an important event for your country.
“Treat the people who come here well.”
The violence which has marred recent demonstrations has hit Brazil’s public image at a time when it hopes to attract some 600,000 foreign tourists.
Another blow came last week with the cancellation of the Soccerex global football forum in Rio, amid claims by organisers that the Rio state government feared a public backlash if it poured more public cash into staging sports-related events.
Trade said he did not believe the Soccerex fiasco would have a bearing on the World Cup as a “private” event.
“I don’t think it will affect the Cup,” he opined, pointing out that Brazil has successfully hosted other events ranging from the Confederations Cup to carnival and traditional New Year events on Rio’s Copacabana — where some three million turned out to welcome the pope last July.
Given the often huge distances between the 12 World Cup venues, transport will be a major challenge for Brazil.
“The great distances, the logistics, are one of the challenges we face. We also have to deal with 12 state governments, 12 municipal authorities — and that’s not easy.
“The government will work with the airlines to get direct flights laid on during the Cup between cities which today are not connected for lack of demand — for example, Cuiaba and Manaus.”
High hotel and flight prices are another worry and Trade says Brazil must address the situation.
“Today, Brazil receives less tourists than the city of New York. The government cannot interfere .. but has set up a committee to study this issue with the private sector so there is greater (price) control during the World Cup.
“As a citizen I think Brazil needs better services and also better prices. Rio hotelry is very expensive but before there was a lack of investment in the sector.
“With the Cup and the (Rio) 2016 Olympics there will be a lot of investment … and it could be greater supply will bring prices down,” Trade indicated.
Brazil has been racing to ensure it meets a FIFA deadline for all 12 venues to be ready by the end of December amid reports that some, including Cuiaba, north of Rio, are running behind schedule.
Says Trade: “Our engineers and architects tell us all the stadiums will be handed over on time by December 31.”
However, he added that there were some “contingency” details — including temporary seating at Sao Paulo — which will be finished afterwards.
Nonetheless, he stressed: “By the end of January we shall have done all the tests in four main items: pitch, lighting, seating and roofing. We have total confidence in the 12 host cities.”
[Image via Agence France-Presse]