At the World Cup, Doomsday Predictions Give Way to Smaller Hiccups in Brazil

19 jun

SÃO PAULO, Brazil — One stadium would not be ready on time. Another would not be ready at all. Violent street protests would threaten fans and upstage everything. Airport and subway strikes would strand tens of thousands of visitors.

These, and other doomsday predictions, were perpetual concerns in the days leading up to the World Cup in Brazil. But after nearly one full week of games, the situation in South America’s largest country is hardly bleak. For those fans who enjoy eye-popping goals, surprising results and stylish soccer, this tournament has, so far, been an incredible success. The games are enthralling and the drama has been perfect for television.

Yet from a logistical perspective, not all has gone swimmingly, particularly for some people on the ground who may appreciate smaller details like consistent electricity, fully finished stadiums and correctly numbered stadium seats. For them, the early returns on the World Cup are a bit more complex.

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Construction workers putting the finishing touches on Arena Corinthians in São Paulo.CreditAlexandra Garcia/The New York Times

Given that reality, Brazil surely deserves plenty of latitude. But with each of the 12 host cities now having hosted at least one game, it seems that organizers are toeing — if not straddling — the line between normal hiccups and a more irritating lack of preparedness.

The range of problems has been broad. Some have had to do with construction, like the visible electrical wires in São Paulo’s stadium or the workers still installing air-conditioning units and carpeting hours before kickoff in Cuiabá. Some have had to do with employee relations, like the 30 percent of baggage checkers who did not show up for work in Brasilia, leading to spectator gridlock outside the turnstiles. Some have been cosmetic, like the burned-out grass in Manaus, which led workers to spray-paint patches of the field green.

None of it has been wholly detrimental — the games have all gone on as scheduled — yet each day has brought a new bump which, in many cases, is something one would never imagine as a potential problem. On Sunday in Porto Alegre, for instance, the stadium’s sound system failed as the teams walked onto the field, leaving players from France and Honduras infuriated as they stood around waiting for national anthems that were never played.

“Many players here on the team, it’s their first World Cup,” Roger Espinoza, a Honduran midfielder, said. “Not being able to listen to the national anthem, I think, is kind of like disrespectful in a way.”

France ended up winning the game, 3-0, but the glitch still stung. “The only thing that frustrated me,” said the French midfielder Antoine Griezmann, “was the absence of ‘La Marseillaise.’ ”

Brazilian organizers have been a mixture of defensive and apologetic about the mishaps. Andrés Sánchez, a former president of the São Paulo club Corinthians who was involved in the construction of the new stadium, said in an interview that Arena Corinthians had issues because “Corinthians started a year and a half later than the other arenas and we also had the accidents that unfortunately delayed the work a little longer.”
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Visible electrical wires in São Paulo’s Itaquerão stadium.CreditAlexandra Garcia/The New York Times

He added: “Then we had also some normal delay.” Asked to elaborate on what “normal delay” means, he referred to typical Brazilian bureaucracy and said, “We want the best — unfortunately it is not possible to satisfy everyone.”

To be fair, luck is always a factor in these spectacles. Any big event can have an unseen slipup, as the N.F.L. learned in 2013 when the Super Bowl was delayed for nearly an hour after a blackout plunged the Superdome in New Orleans into darkness. By comparison, the bank of lights that went out at São Paulo’s stadium during the World Cup opening match was a minor blip.

Yet there have also been plenty of avoidable issues. Some fans attending games at Arena das Dunas in Natal received emails informing them that they would need to exchange their tickets for new ones because a portion of the seats at the stadium had not been installed.

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Construction workers installing glass at the Arena da Baixada stadium in Curitibá.CreditHenry Romero/Reuters

Then again, at least they were told ahead of time. Ian Greenfield, a lawyer from southwest London, showed up at Arena da Amazônia for England’s game against Italy in Manaus with a group that had purchased four tickets in the same row: Seats 13 to 16.

When they arrived, alas, they quickly realized that their assigned row was numbered only up to 15 before the numbering started over at 1. “They sold a ticket that didn’t have a seat,” Greenfield said.

Hungry fans in Manaus were also out of luck because many concession stands either ran out of food early in the match or had nothing on sale at all. That was similar to the situation at the first game here, where many Mexico fans attending the match against Cameroon went to merchandise booths but found no merchandise for sale. That game was also played in a downpour, leading some spectators to pose for photographs alongside an unexpected waterfall that was created when the roof next to a concession stand sprang a significant leak.

“This is not acceptable,” Saint-Clair Milesi, the head of the local organizing committee, said of the fireworks. “We are discussing how to become even more rigorous.”

As is often the case, the overall impact of the logistical concerns is debatable. In general, the playing conditions for most of the matches have been excellent, which, in cities like Natal and Salvador — where the fields were battered with unusually heavy rain — was a testament to the quality of the drainage systems. Ultimately, this is the most important priority since it is the games that generally define an event’s historical legacy.

That was the perspective Tony Morgan opted to take as he surveyed the situation in Manaus. “It’s a great view, a great setting,” said Morgan, an English engineer who lives in Australia. “I don’t think it detracts from the game.”

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