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Wondering why there's a picture of a caipirinha in a story about Rio's Olympic preparations? Because this is what's on the Rio2016 site. There are no photos of any venues.

Wondering why there’s a picture of a caipirinha in a story about Rio’s Olympic preparations? Because this is what’s on the Rio2016 site. There are no photos of any venues.

The catalyst for my story on today was the closure of Rio’s 2016 Olympic games stadium because it is in danger of collapse.

The Joao Havelange stadium was inaugurated just six years ago but was so poorly done it is already in an advanced state of disrepair.

My editors at Time made tweaks to my story on the grounds it was too opinionated.

What I wanted to say loud and clear, and have been saying in conversation for years, is this: The people who ran Rio’s 2007 Pan American Games and who are organising the next Olympics are guilty of either deceit or bad planning or both.

For the Pan Ams they promised the city of Rio 54km of new metro, a light railway line and a new highway.

They did none of it.

The games were at least six times over budget and the justification was that the venues and facilities were expensive because they were of Olympic standard.

They are not.

The track and field stadium is in danger of collapse. The aquatics park is not big enough to be used for the Olympics and a new one must be built. The brand new cycle track can’t be used because it is not good enough. The Maracana is undergoing its third reform since 2000 at a total cost exceeding 1 billion reais.

Rio’s Pan Am experience is more about how not to prepare for a major sporting event than how to.

It is nothing short of scandalous that the organizers are being given a second chance.

Deco, delighted he didn’t have to play against me, even on a concrete four-a-side pitch

In December I spent a week in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro interviewing players, directors, economists, marketing experts and media personalities for a Time magazine article.

The piece, written by my colleague Bobby Ghosh, came out yesterday to much consternation, thanks largely to a misleading headline that declared Neymar The Next Pele. (See more on that controversy here.)

Here’s five interesting things that never made it into the piece:

–          Botafogo have someone standing at the same of the pitch with team shirts to give to players who are going to be interviewed. At the end of the game or at half time the players have either swapped their shirts or taken them off because they are sweating and club officials realized sponsors logos weren’t appearing when they were being grilled on TV. The officials now make sure the players are suitably attired.

–          Brazilian clubs exaggerate the number of fans they have, or at least what constitutes a fan. Flamengo and Corinthians claim they have more than 30 million fans each and yet neither averages a crowd above 30,000. Only around 350,000 Brazilian fans are registered with their club’s socio-torcedor scheme, the closest thing Brazilians clubs have to season tickets. Clubs and sponsors have started a push to get more adherents through a deal that gives them discounts with major retailers such as SKY TV, Pepsi, Netshoes and Brahma. The target is to get 3.5 million fans signed as socio-torcedores.

–          Corinthians increased their revenue from 55 million reais in 2003 to 290 million reais in 2011 but marketing director Luis Paulo Rosenberg still believes the club has only scratched the surface of what is possible. “I am not saying we do everything right,” he told us. “But we stopped doing everything wrong and that was enough to multiply revenues by five or six.”

–          Santos have more fans in Sao Paulo  than in Santos, according to Stochos, a sports consultancy.  Their numbers show that 19.5 % of Santos fans live in the Baixada Santista, while 37.6 % live in the state capital. The number of young people who support Santos has increased greatly over the last few years, thanks largely, Stochos believes, due to the influence of Neymar.

–          Deco was lucky that he was late for his scheduled interview at the foundation for disadvantaged kids he set up in his home town of Indaiatuba. By turning up half an hour late he didn’t have to face me in the under 12-s four-a-side match. (Each team was allowed one over-age player). The former Barcelona and Chelsea midfielder would doubtlessly have struggled to contain my box-to-box running and overall stranglehold on midfield.

NeymarHere’s this week’s Time magazine with Neymar on the cover. The title is The Next Pelé and it is already getting flak.

That’s understandable. I’d have added a question mark. Neymar isn’t the next Pelé, certainly not yet.

As my friend, Brazilian football writer Fernando Duarte very reasonably pointed out, Neymar is just the first Neymar. No one can really hope to equal Pelé.

But there’s the clue to this week’s headline. Last year, Time did a cover piece on Barcelona’s Lionel Messi. The title that time around was just as controversial. It said Messi was “possibly the best of all time.”

Time want to sell magazines. They want people to talk about their story. There’s no surer way to make that happen than by calling Neymar the Next Pelé.


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.)


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.

The Brazilian press are today focusing on, or perhaps I should say, celebrating, the condemnation of Jose Dirceu, Lula’s former chief of staff who was this week found guilty of corruption in Brazil’s mensalao trial.

The focus for foreign journalists is quite different. We are writing about what this means.

Here’s my piece in today’s It’s perhaps best summed up by this quote, from Christopher Garman of the Eurasia consultancy group.

“The mere fact that you have a trial like this is part of a bigger story. The bigger story is that Brazil is starting to implement greater checks and balances and more oversight of public officials when it comes to  corruption and misuse of public funds.”

Another good piece well worth a read is by Simon Romero of the NYT. His piece is here and deals with the mensalao and Brazil’s justice system in general.

Meanwhile, this piece on Reuters deals with what this means to (the once teflon?) Lula.

At least 28 of the 47 shopping centres in Sao Paulo are operating illegally because they do not have the proper permits to function, according to an investigation published on the front page of the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper today.

Some were built where or when they shouldn’t have been by construction companies, others did not get the proper documentation and permissions before opening and others don’t have the required number of parking spaces.

This news comes just days after it was revealed there are 45 obstacles along the flight path to Sao Paulo’s Congonhas airport, one of the busiest in Brazil. The obstacles range from buildings that are too high, to trees, to a hospital and – surprise, surprise – two shopping centres.

The point here is this: If we can’t rely on the state or the city to enforce laws designed to protect us – and in the case of the airport save lives – then who can we rely on? Why were these buildings allowed to be built?

And now that we know they are illegal why haven’t they been closed down?

I wrote this story in Time magazine in February about a building in Rio that collapsed, killing several people inside. It was reported that authorities had looked the other way while granting building or work permits on the building and I said this in my story, prompting Mayor Eduardo Paes to publicly criticize me (as I reported in this post).

There’s a clear connection between not following the proper building procedures and tragedies like the one in Rio.

Don’t people who pay bribes and the officials who take them or overlook the law get that?

Every year Time lists its 100 Most Influential People In The World.

The 2012 list is out today and there are a record three Brazilians on it, entrepreneur Eike Batista, President Dilma Rousseff and Petrobras CEO Maria das Graças Silva Foster.

Everyone can find fault with the list – how is that guy on it and where is so-and-so?!? – but that’s part of its appeal.

Time editors choose who makes the list and there are often heated, last-minute discussions over who makes the final cut and who gets bumped.

But the coolest thing about the list is how famous people write short essays about those chosen.

This year, Barack Obama writes about Warren Buffet, Bill Gates talks on Salman Khan, Mia Hamm lauds Lionel Messi and, ahem, Cristina Kirchner even writes about Dilma Rousseff.

We managed to convince Eduardo Paes to give us his opinions on Eike Batista and the Rio mayor wrote a lovely piece that captures their friendly relationship but most of all, their mutual love for Rio.

The whole list can be found here but here’s Paes’  ode to Eike:

“I have the best job in the world. I wake up every morning energized at the thought of running Rio de Janeiro, the most exciting city on the planet. Our beloved Cidade Maravilhosa(Marvelous City) is going through an extraordinary era of positive change and social development — and as one of its most treasured adopted sons, Eike Batista, 55, has helped us shape the renaissance. He might be Brazil’s richest man and the world’s seventh richest, bringing vital investment to our city from oil and mining, but his most valuable asset is his commitment to Rio’s legacy. In 2009 Eike bolstered our successful bid for the 2016 Olympics, and since then he has partnered with us on municipal projects like the cleanup of the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon. His initiatives, besides helping fund a children’s hospital, include the revitalization of the city’s Marina da Glória, which will be home to the Olympic sailing events, and the establishment of Escola Social de Vôlei, a nonprofit organization that promotes social inclusion in the favelas through sports. Eike and I may not agree on which of us has the best job in the world, but one thing we certainly agree on is that Rio de Janeiro is the best place in the world.”


Socrates, in 1986

A few years ago, Time magazine had me call Socrates to ask him if he would pen a short piece on Kaka.

The magazine’s editors – perhaps the same ones who suggested last month that Lionel Messi was better than Pele – had chosen Kaka as one of the 100 most influential people on the planet and they wanted Socrates to write an eulogy.

Socrates had one question for me. Is this about Kaka the footballer or Kaka the man, he asked. Kaka, the man, I replied.

To my delight, Socrates dismissed the idea out of hand. He had great respect for Kaka with a ball at his feet but not with a bible in his hand.

Time got Casey Keller to write the piece instead.

I thought of this last night when I saw that Neymar had described Ricardo Teixeira as “an excellent president” of the CBF. The young Santos star made the comments on the same day that Edmundo declared that he “loved” Ricardo Teixeira and a few days after Ronaldo and Bebeto both lauded Teixeira’s work.

(See the Neymar comments in Portuguese here, and details of Ronaldo and Bebeto’s nonsense here in my Reuters piece from last week.)

Socrates was not just a brilliant footballer. He was an intelligent and highly  principled man who fought hard so that players like Neymar could have more of a voice, both inside and outside the game.

He must be rolling in his grave.

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.


Sex sells.

My piece on the controversial Gisele Bundchen lingerie campaign is top of the Time’s most read list today.

I’d like to think that’s because of my sparkling writing and astute analysis. But I think it’s probably because it is about Gisele Bundchen in lingerie.

I can only imagine how popular it would be if I included videos of the three ads in my story, featuring the Gaucha goddess pouting away in her bra and panties.

You can find them here.

Here’s the first one for your delectation.


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