Amid Corruption Charges, Delays, Cost Overruns, Pelé and Romário Lambast World Cup Preparations

Pelé According to Brazilian soccer legend Édson Arantes do Nascimento, better known as Pelé, Brazil is not yet ready to host the 2014 World Cup. He was interviewed by the ESPN Soccernet website. Pelé cites chaotic organization and communication difficulties as the biggest problems facing Brazil as it prepares for the international event. 

“Brazil is not ready,” Pelé said. “Not yet, it is not ready. The biggest problem, I think, is the organization, that is a big problem, so too is the communications.”

But despite his fears, Pelé said he was confident all “will run smoothly” by the time the World Cup gets under way. “I am now working directly with the president of Brazil who is doing her best to help out with the organization,” he said.

In July, President Dilma Rousseff named Pelé the honorary ambassador for the World Cup. At the time, he criticized delays in building stadiums and other infrastructure.

Pelé spoke to ESPN on Wednesday, the same day that Brazil’s sports minister Orlando Silva resigned amid corruption allegations. He was the sixth minister forced out of Rousseff’s government. Four of the others had also faced corruption allegations.

A recent government report on Brazil’s preparations for the World Cup said that as of September, renovation work had not begun on five of the 13 airports that will be used during the tournament.

The report also said that seven of the 12 host cities have not begun other infrastructure work, and only nine of the nearly 50 transportation projects planned for the tournament were under way.

Earlier this month former Brazil striker Romário, now a congressman, told Agência Brasil, the government’s news agency: “Maybe because of politics, work which was supposed to be halfway done hasn’t even started.”

The government, however, does not seem worried about the apparent lack of progress and is confident that everything will eventually get done. Officials also dismiss the notion Brazil is not doing enough.

Gil Castello Branco, a spokesperson for the watchdog group Contas Abertas, maintained that Silva’s departure would not halt preparations for the World Cup.

“I don’t think it will have any effect on the preparations for our two mega events, the World Cup and the Olympics. Silva is more of a figurehead. The preparations will go ahead without him,” Castello Branco said.

FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke, meanwhile, is concerned over delays at new stadiums and developments to existing ones. Adjustments to the world famous Maracanã, in particular, may not be completed in time.

Valcke criticized the slow development taking place and believes Brazil will not be ready to properly host the Confederations Cup in 2013, which is considered a warm-up for world football’s showpiece event.

“There is a lot of work to deliver,” he told the Inside World Football Forum. “We don’t have stadiums, we don’t have airports, we don’t have a national transportation system in place and we are one month away from the preliminary draw.

“The Maracanã is definitely not currently a World Cup stadium and that’s why it’s closed. It will be ready at the last minute, a few months maybe, even a few weeks before the tournament if they don’t speed up the process.

“In São Paulo, the main city in Brazil, they will not even be able to play the Confederations Cup in 2013 because the stadium will not be ready.”

Valcke believes one obstacle is that Brazil is too preoccupied with winning the competition, saying: “In South Africa the main goal was to show the world that Africa could organize a World Cup. In Brazil, in a way the main issue is to win it. Otherwise they will talk about failure.”

Big Boss Out

Ricardo Teixeira has dominated Brazilian football for so long that, like many of the best players, he is known by just one name. They call him the “cartola,” literally the “top hat,” a title given to football bosses that instill respect and fear in equal measure and can carry more than a hint of shadiness.
Teixeira’s critics hope the hat may finally be slipping from the head of the man who has been chief of Brazil’s football confederation for 22 years and leads the local organizing committee for the 2014 World Cup despite a barrage of corruption allegations against him.

A federal police investigation launched this month threatens to shed new light on reports that Teixeira, a member of world soccer body FIFA ruling executive committee, took millions of dollars in bribes from a sports marketing firm.

That comes as he also faces chilly political winds from Brazil’s presidential palace and growing concern over the country’s lagging, over-budget preparations for the World Cup.

Teixeira’s critics say his role as the face of the 2014 tournament, with influence over where public funds are spent, risks becoming a major embarrassment for Brazil at an event meant to showcase its rise to developed-world status.

“Football is for the people and the people are paying for his individual actions,” Romário, the legendary former striker who played a starring role in Brazil’s 1994 World Cup title, told Reuters in an interview.

“If he responds to the questions that millions of Brazilians want to ask, it will be good for the World Cup and things could start to move forward,” added Romário, now a federal congressman who has unsuccessfully called on Teixeira to testify before Congress.

Police are investigating allegations that Teixeira, 64, laundered money from bribes he is suspected of receiving in the 1990s along with two other high-ranking FIFA officials.

That follows separate allegations this year, also being investigated by police, that he oversaw a scheme to divert public funds from a 2008 Brazil friendly match.

Teixeira denies the allegations against him and has blamed the British media – the BBC first reported he took bribes – of sour grapes after England lost its bid to host the 2018 World Cup.

Until this year, Teixeira could count on his warm ties with Lula, the football-loving former president. But the successor, Dilma Rousseff, has made little secret of her disapproval of the cartola.

She was reportedly horrified when Teixeira did not invite Brazil soccer great Pelé, a global sporting icon, to the preliminary World Cup draw in Rio de Janeiro in July. In what amounted to a public humiliation for Teixeira, she hurriedly appointed Pelé as Brazil’s honorary World Cup ambassador.

The first woman to lead Brazil has taken a tough stance against unethical behavior by her ministers, five of whom have been forced to resign this year. The latest cabinet member to step down was Sports Minister Orlando Silva, who resigned while denying accusations that he skimmed money from sports programs and took delivery of wads of cash in the ministry’s garage.

A rapidly expanding middle class in Brazil has become less tolerant of the corruption and nepotism that have for long plagued politics and the sport Brazilians refer to as the “beautiful game.”

That has helped fuel match-day protests this year where thousands of fans of different teams have found common ground under the slogan “Ricardo Teixeira out”.



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