Just a little more than two years before the preliminary FIFA World Cup matches, Brazil is making preparations for not one, but two major international events. As the 2014 FIFA World Cup tournament nears and the 2016 Olympic Games following shortly afterwards, a bright international spotlight will shine on the country.
Brazil's star is on the rise as its economy has boomed during the past five years. Meanwhile, the country has climbed to the top of the global sports stage. With success, however, often comes controversy.
Reconstruction of Rio de Janeiro’s soccer temple the Maracana has drawn considerable resistance. The historic stadium, built for the 1950 World Cup, has been a fan favorite for decades.
The overhaul includes additional luxury boxes and less seating. This type of reconfiguration is a common occurrence at U.S. sports venues, but the changes to the Maracana have drawn considerable ire in Brazil. The standing-room only section and cheap open seating known as “the bench” available to the poorest fans are both gone now.
Meanwhile, many low-income settlements known as favelas are set to be demolished and replaced by hotels and infrastructure designed to alleviate traffic congestion expected for the World Cup and the Olympics. The improvements for Rio will be long lasting, but the relocation process effectively evicts local citizens and sends them to large settlements nearly 50 miles away.
This is not the first time urban residents of a host city have been displaced. South Africa relocated nearly 20,000 people from the Joe Slovo settlement in Cape Town to create rental housing and beautify the city for the 2010 World Cup.
For the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, the Chinese reportedly evicted more than one million people. Even Great Britain, a prosperous country, has confirmed evictions as 400 people have been moved in preparation of the upcoming 2012 Summer Olympics.
Brazil's issues are complicated. Organized crime, extortion, drug trafficking and gang violence plague the country. Thus, security for tourists and fans visiting Brazil for the 2014 FIFA World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games is a high priority.
The Brazilians are utilizing advanced surveillance techniques, border controls, and the blacklisting of past troublemakers to create a safer environment for visitors. Furthermore, security officers are undergoing training to thwart possible terror attacks.
Transportation is perhaps Brazil’s largest challenge. Recently, the country announced that it would invest $17 billion dollars into mass transit. The national government has also set aside $4.3 billion for urban transportation infrastructure while state and local authorities have committed another $2.15 billion.
Despite this investment, it is questionable whether the improvements will indeed be ready for the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics. Even if new mass transit is not fully functional for the World Cup or the Olympics, Brazil's transportation system will be substantially improved for the long haul.
Like previous FIFA World Cups and Olympics host countries, Brazil wants to convey the best possible image of the country as it continues its ascent on the global stage. But such advances come with growing pains.
The clock is ticking for Brazil to be ready to host the two biggest global sporting events. How the country does in facing the challenges remains to be seen.
Jed Hughes is Vice Chair of Korn/Ferry and the leader of the executive search firm's Global Sports Practice. Among his high-profile placements are Mark Murphy, CEO of the Green Bay Packers; Larry Scott, Commissioner of the Pac-12 Conference; and Brady Hoke, head coach of the Michigan Wolverines. Earlier in his career, Mr. Hughes coached for two decades in professional and intercollegiate football where he served under five Hall of Fame coaches: Bo Schembechler (Michigan), Chuck Noll (Pittsburgh Steelers), Bud Grant (Minnesota Vikings), John Ralston (Stanford) and Terry Donahue (UCLA). Follow him on Facebook, Twitter @jedhughesKF.