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ronaldo-nazario, from 9nineRonaldo woke up in UK today on his first full day in what promises to be a year-long business sabbatical at advertising firm WPP.

One of three men organizing the 2014 World Cup and June’s Confederations Cup warm up competition, he leaves at an inopportune time.

Stadiums are late, infrastructure isn’t being built fast enough and the budget is rising.

“Our problem is cultural. We leave everything to the last minute,” the former Real Madrid and Inter Milan striker told O Globo last week. “We’ve had since 2007 to get organized.”

And yet they haven’t. Why Ronaldo, who is one of those charged with making sure the tournament runs smoothly, is taking leave of his position right now makes no sense to me.

FIFA says he is an unpaid volunteer and that he will be returning to Brazil whenever his presence is needed at events.

The fact is, however, it is one more sign of Brazil’s lack of seriousness.

If you assume a position organising a major tournament like the World Cup, you should devote yourself to the task, not do it when it suits you.

Ronaldo’s departure on the eve of the Confederations Cup, with stadiums still not ready four months past the initial deadline, and public transportation projects so far behind schedule they probably won’t happen before June 2014, sends a clear signal to the world.

The signal is that Brazil isn’t taking this seriously.

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If you knew the escalators at Rio’s international airport needed replacing then when would you choose to rip them out?

Would you look for a quiet time in order to cause the least inconvenience to passengers or would you do it right in the middle of carnival, the time of the year when the airport is busiest?

No prizes for guessing that officials in Rio have scheduled to replace 10 of the airport’s escalators the week of carnival, when half a million people are expected to come through the building.

(I am not making this up. See details in this morning’s Folha de S. Paulo newspaper.)

This struck me as too ridiculous to be true so I called Infraero – the body that runs the Galeao airport – and they confirmed the Folha story. Fourteen of the 58 escalators have already been replaced and they are replacing 10 more right now.

Why not wait a couple of weeks and do it after the carnival rush is over, I asked.

We are following the established timetable, the Infraero official replied.

Portuguese speakers might like this link, to O Globo columnist Artur Xexeo’s December column entitled: “The Worst Airport in the World.”

Almost a year ago I write a piece for Time magazine about how poor construction and Rio’s lack of oversight may have contributed to the tragic collapse of a building in the old centre that killed several people.

Mayor Eduardo Paes sarcastically attacked me for suggesting such things and local newspaper O Globo defended the city against outside criticism. (See my blog here.)

Well, today O Globo has a front page story about how the city’s buses can’t use the brand new bus lanes built for the Olympics because they are falling apart. (See O Globo’s picture below. Link to the story is here, in Portuguese.)

Image

The BRT bus lanes were completed in the middle of last year and are one of Rio’s main public transport projects ahead of the 2016 Olympics.

Experts quoted in the story blame poor construction for the potholes and said it was probably done cheaply to save money, even though the costs of maintenance are much higher once completed.

It’s infuriating, not to say scandalous, that public money is so repeatedly wasted in this way.

As I wrote in the Christian Science Monitor last year, there is

“ongoing concern about construction and infrastructure in South America’s biggest nation – and the world’s sixth-biggest economy. Even at the highest levels, Brazil’s infrastructure projects are routinely late, poorly built or over budget, or all three.”

With the World Cup just 17 months away and host cities rushing to get stadiums and infrastructure projects completed those warnings are more and more salient.

Fluminense won their fourth Brazilian league title on Sunday and this piece explains why.

In short, two men were outstanding. Fred finished the season as top goalscorer with 19 goals, and more than half of them ensured Flu took all three points. His goals were decisive in 10 games.

Goalkeeper Diego Cavalieri couldn’t establish himself as first choice at Palmeiras or Liverpool, where Marcos and Pepe Reina were No. 1, respectively. But he was fantastic for Fluminense, keeping 13 clean sheets over the season and making countless great saves.

A team wins the league, not individuals but they were two of the best performers over the season.

Congratulations to Fluminense who will now want to emulate Corinthians and win the Libertadores for the first time.

If players like Deco, Rafael Sobis and Thiago Neves turn it on like they’ve turned it on before then they are in with a real chance.

See O Globo’s photo essay on Flu’s triumph here.

It’s no longer a shock to hear Brazil described as one of the most expensive countries in the world.

Most Brazilians will tell you the reason is high taxes and they are partly right, the levels of taxation here are abusive given the services provided in return.

(I’ve written about that before here and here.)

But another simpler reason is that companies and businessmen are just plain greedy. They know they can charge huge mark ups because Brazil is full of rich and emerging consumers who have lots of money and who don’t know the value of what they are buying.

Further proof comes in this story in today’s O Globo newspaper. It lists duty free prices at airports around the world. Prices at the Dufry store at Rio’s Galeao airport routinely outstrip those elsewhere, often by as much as 68%.

If the the story errs it is in quoting too many lawyers trying to justify the abusive prices. One talks about the ‘Brazil cost,’ that collection of infrastructure, taxation, legal and other obstacles that make Brazil so expensive. He also cites the fact that these goods can cost so much more because they are imported from Europe.

It’s mostly bullshit. And here’s why.

A 1 litre bottle of Sagatiba cachaça costs $29.90 at Dufry. A 70 cl bottle of the same Sagatiba cachaça costs $15.40 at Uvinum online stores in the US.

It’s one more example of how consumers are treated with disdain here. We are walking wallets, there to be taken advantage of.

It’s an outrage and with consumer advocates so weak, there is little way of combating the abuse other than by boycotting the offending shops.

We could all start by refusing to spend money at Dufry.

I usually use this blog to plug my own stories but I am making an exception today for this brilliant piece of reporting about how rich Brazilians are destroying the environment to build themselves palatial homes.

Some of the most powerful and influential people in Brazil, film maker Bruno Barreto and the Marinho family that run the Globo media empire among them, have consistently flouted the law by cutting down forests, diverting streams, and disturbing rare habitats.

All so they can have nice houses.

The Bloomberg story says:

“All Brazilian beaches are public by law. Wealthy Brazilians do whatever they want on land that often doesn’t belong to them, says Eduardo Godoy of the Paraty office of the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation, which manages federally protected areas.

“They think they are the only ones who deserve to enjoy a piece of paradise because they are rich,” Godoy says. “They say they are the owners of the island or the beach, and everybody believes them. But that’s not what the law says.”

When prosecutors and environmental police go after them (and usually win), the millionaires appeal the decisions in court, knowing that such actions can take years to be resolved. They ignore the original rulings and stay put while their lawyers buy them time to enjoy their ill-gotten gains.

Read the whole story here. It’s worth it.

 

 

 

It’s been 17 years, almost to the day, since I last wrote for Reuters.

When I left Port-au-Prince in February 1995 to go to Mexico City I cut my ties with the news agency and moved on.

Today I saw my name under the Reuters logo again, this time from Brazil. I will be writing about sports, and particularly football, in the months and I hope years to come.

My first piece today was about Ricardo Teixeira, a man I’ve written about many times before. The lead promises more news on the CBF president very soon.

The president of the Brazilian Football Confederation and the man charged with organising the 2014 World Cup was reportedly close to resigning on Wednesday after a local newspaper implicated him in another corruption scandal.

Ricardo Teixeira, who has headed the CBF for 22 years, could step down as early as Thursday, O Globo newspaper reported.

The news came on the day another newspaper, Folha de S.Paulo, reported that a company linked to the football boss overcharged the organisers of a November 2008 friendly match between Brazil and Portugal in Brazil’s capital, Brasilia.

For more on Ricardo Teixeira see this earlier post.

 

I will never forget the first time a politician shouted at me.

I was in Haiti and the Prime Minister came on the phone to vigorously deny a story peddled by his aides.

Even though I knew I was the victim of a trial balloon that went awry, I was still quite young and being shouted at by the Prime Minister freaked me out.

It felt particularly bad because the man at the other end of the line was the only Haitian politician I ever respected.

I realised I’d better develop a thick skin – and quick!

I recalled that story today after the Mayor of Rio slagged me off in this piece in O Globo. The Rio paper ran an article about my story in Time magazine that criticised the city for the lack of maintenance that helped bring about the building crash that cost 17 lives and the death of a man from an explosion in the city’s drains.

In response Eduardo Pães made the crass comment: “The Americans have been jealous since Chicago didn’t win the right to host the Olympics.”

Sometimes you know when the piece you’re writing will be controversial and prepare yourself for the backlash. But Pães’s reaction took me by surprise because my piece was so innocuous. It simply stated that:

“Two tragic events have underlined Rio’s need not just to invest in new hotels, venues and transportation but also to take drastic action to shore up the city’s crumbling infrastructure.”

Thankfully Cariocas understood and agreed. To  my surprise, the comments that came after the story were mostly positive.

The vast majority agreed that the city needs more oversight and more investment in maintaining its infrastructure. And several people criticised Pães for his childish comments.

My thanks to them for understanding.

 

Photographer: Ronnie Macdonald

It’s always entertaining to hear Diego Maradona whining that he was a better player than Pelé.

No matter that almost everyone who seen them both play rates Pelé higher.

Now, however, Maradona is updating that age-old dispute between Brazil and Argentina by claiming Neymar is not as good as Lionel Messi and probably never will be.

So far, he’s right. Messi has not only won much more than Neymar, he has done so with elegance and poise, both on and off the pitch.

But what was most interesting about Maradona’s latest rant was him targeting Neymar for his bad attitude. “That boy is ill-mannered and he respects no one, just like Pelé,” Maradona said (according to this story on ig.com.br).

Now, aside from the obvious, ‘black, kettle, pot’ aspect of Diego Maradona criticising another player’s attitude, it’s illustrative how Neymar has so quickly managed to acquire an image as a cheat, an arrogant boor and a spoilt brat.

Take this opinion last week from O Globo’s Fernando Calazans: “I am a bit sick of seeing him rolling around on the ground and then inventing stories about the referee threatening to send him off. The only person threatening to get Neymar sent off is Neymar himself, with his spoilt child antics and his addiction to being a star.”

That damning indictment from one of the most astute football columnists in Brazil is no isolated criticism.

Opposing manager Rene Simões called Neymar “a monster” last year and said he had seldom seen a player “as ignorant or unsporting.”

Several opposing players have accused him of cheating.

And after he scored both goals in a 2-0 win over Scotland earlier this year, amid lots of rolling around and feigning injury, former Chelsea winger Pat Nevin said Neymar “lives in an alternative universe where the slightest brush leads to mortal pain that looks like it is going to kill him and then 20 seconds later he is magically better.”

Neymar accused the Scotland fans of racism in that match but even after it was revealed the banana thrown on the pitch came from a German teenager, Neymar stubbornly refused to apologise for the accusation.

He would do well to grow up and show some humility and he could start by looking at some appropriate role models.

That doesn’t mean Pelé and it certainly doesn’t mean Maradona.

Neymar should spend more time trying to be like Lionel Messi. Both on and off the field.

P.S. Good luck to Santos (and Neymar) in the final of the Libertadores match tonight against Peñarol.

Brazilians are a playful lot and artistic with it and this sketch combines both qualities.

It’s a lighthearted look at possible footballs that could be used in place of the helium filled Jabulani in Brazil in 2014.

Here’s a taster (see pic, right). The full size link is here, at the O Globo web sit of gossip columnist at Ancelmo Gois.

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