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Adidas 2Adidas launched two tshirts this month that were ostensibly about the World Cup but had a sexual connotation. Their message was clear: Come to Brazil for the football and you might get lucky.

The tshirts were withdrawn from sale yesterday after the Brazilian government complained they were “a crime against all humanity” that encouraged sexual tourism.

The tshirts, pictured here, were in questionable taste and the company was right to remove them from shop windows.

But the Brazilian government’s response is not just over the top (a crime against all humanity?), it is also hypocritical.

Walk down any Brazilian street and you are assailed by sensual images, both real and virtual, that go far beyond what you see in Europe or the US. Infant girls get their ears pierced and are adorned with pink ribbons. Children are wheeled out on TV shows in hot pants and crop tops where they dance suggestively. Gorgeous and scantily clad women are a fixture in adverts and on television.Adidas 1

Beer companies, to quote perhaps the most egregious example, don’t just have semi-naked blondes (yes, they’re usually blondes) in every commercial, they give their beers names such as Devassa, Proibida, and Gostosa.

Most of this is down to the private sector and, lamentably, the media.

But federal, state and municipal government rarely object and certainly not with the vigor they showed yesterday.

Instead, they continue to do business with the guilty companies. They give their imprimatur to carnival, where semi-nude and second rate models shake themselves atop pedestals under the guise of culture. They advertise with the offending media conglomerates.

This isn’t a comment on sexual attitudes. It’s a comment on hypocrisy and perspective.

Brazil is always sensitive about its image and will be even more so in the run up to the World Cup. But there are many more important issues to be resolved right now than the sale of a few questionable tshirts.

The furor over the tshirts is not wrong. It’s just missing the bigger picture.

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collage_20131205154743648_20131211235334178-1Lots of people ask me whether I think the World Cup will be a success and I usually answer in two parts.

Yes, it will be great for a month and the people who come here will have a fantastic time.

But when they leave, Brazilians will be left with the bill, the shocking lack of a legacy infrastructure, and a tragic feeling, especially if the home side wins, that everything in their country is hunky dory.

The next question is often, Why do think it will be great when you have all these criticisms?

I found the perfect answer to that question last week at the World Cup draw. Every morning at breakfast dozens of colourful little birds flew around the hotel’s outdoor dining room. A colleague said he saw a family of meerkats nearby.

Brazil can be a hugely enchanting country and Brazilians have an undeniable charm. Sitting down to breakfast and seeing wildlife up close is an unforgettable experience for a visitor.

Fans come for the football and seeing the World Cup in the game’s spiritual home will be a dream come true for many.

Put that together with friendly natives, beaches, sunshine, music and one month-long party atmosphere, and that’s more than enough to send a visitor home enraptured with their South American stay.

I’ve no doubt those will be the memories most people will take away with them.

riodejaneiro_aerea_arenamaracana-135768The legendary Maracana stadium was modernised at a cost of more than 1 billion reais and now boasts room for 78,838 fans.

A massive press area was set up for the Confederations Cup and thousands of journalists covered the FIFA-organised final between Spain and Brazil in June

But now that the running of the stadium has been turned over to Rio authorities they are unable to find room to house the few hundred local and international reporters who want to cover the Brazilian Cup Final.

Several foreign correspondents have been refused permission to cover the game. The new Maracana’s press box “isn’t big enough for big matches,” admitted Eraldo Leite, Acerj’s president.

So, the biggest stadium in Rio and the most emblematic of all Brazilian grounds hasn’t built a press box big enough to handle press for big games. That forethought. That’s planning.

I came to Recife last year and took a public bus to the Ilha do Retiro to see the Sport-Ponte Preta game.

The ride was more memorable than the game. Passengers were thrown to one side and another as the driver careened round corners. People were quite literally shrieking with fear and begging him to slow down.

I took a taxi home as there was little public transport still running at midnight when the game ended.

On Sunday, I came to Recife’s sparkling new Arena Pernambuco to see Spain play Uruguay in the Confederations Cup. I was taken here and dropped off by an air-conditioned FIFA shuttle bus and got a nice seat in a beautiful stadium.

The two trips were both to see football matches in Recife but the only thing they had in common is 22 players, a ball and the trip along appalling roads filled with pot holes the size of televisions.

Much of the protests that erupted across Brazil last night are not against the World Cup per se. They are directed at the double standard of beautiful new stadiums being built for FIFA at a rush (and huge cost) while the government neglects much more necessary investment in hospitals, schools and sanitation.

This video was made by a friend and that sentiment is summed up by one girl around the 2:40 mark.

“We don’t have health, we don’t have education, we don’t have anything dignified,” she said. “The only thing that they gave us was a stadium.  If our child is sick we don’t want to take him to a stadium. We want education for our children and decent health. We don’t have this in Brazil.”

Two of the worlds most powerful teams are warming up for the Confederations Cup with games against Haiti.

Spain beat them 2-1 on Sunday in Miami and the Haitians acquitted themselves well. Tonight they play Italy in Rio de Janeiro in a rematch of what was one of the most memorable World Cup games ever.

In 1974, Italy were among the favourites to win the World Cup and Haiti were playing in the tournament for the first and only time.  Italy had gone two years without losing and famed goalkeeper Dino Zoff had not conceded a goal in 1142 minutes, then a world record.

Then Emmanuel Sanon came along and scored one of the greatest goals in the tournament’s history:

Twenty years later I lived in Haiti in 1994 and one of the highlights of the year was the World Cup.

When I arrived in Port-au-Prince in 1993 we got around six to eight hours of electricity a day, usually from around midnight to sunrise.

Then, at the start of 1994 the supply dried up. In some weeks we got just three hours, just enough to charge a car battery we used to power our laptops.

When the World Cup started we realised why. The military dictators had been rationing electricity in order to ensure there was enough during the World Cup. For a whole month we got 24 hours of electricity a day.

The reasoning was this: Haitians will put up with a coup and indescribable hardships. But they won’t put up with missing the World Cup.

Things have changed in Haiti and not always for the better. But one thing that hasn’t altered is reverence for the late Emannuel Sanon. Or memories of that amazing day in Germany.

The Confederations Cup is less than a week away and preparations have been fraught, to say the least.

Only two of the stadiums were delivered on time and some of the others are still less than finished. The delivery of tickets has been chaotic. And huge question marks remain over airports and public transport.

But in the parallel world of Brazil’s Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo, a man who thinks public transport in London is as problematic as in Brazil, the preparations have been just hunky dory.

“I’d give us a nine (out of 10),” Rebelo said on a conference call with foreign media yesterday. “We’ve been able to deliver all the stadiums but we could have delivered them sooner to allow for the realisation of more test events.

“Apart from that, all the requirements were executed in accordance with expectations.”

Lord knows what mark he’d give himself for World Cup planning. Time will tell….

FelipaoLuiz Felipe Scolari just announced his squad for next month’s Confederations Cup and it’s characterized by brave choices and an onus on youth.

Both Ronaldinho and Kaka have been left out, with the former omission particularly surprising given that he has been in sparkling form with his club Atletico Mineiro.

I think he’s right to leave him out because Ronaldinho has failed to show not just his club form in a yellow jersey, but also failed to show the same appetite for the game. However, if Brazil don’t do well, the screams for his return will become deafening.

The big surprise is the inclusion of Bernard, another Atletico Mineiro player. The tiny attacking midfielder has been one of the stars of Atletico’s Libertadores campaign.

I think his inclusion is as much about preparing him for the World Cup than it is about the Confederations competition. Felipao pointedly stated that he wants to give Bernard the experience of a big tournament before next year.

Lucas, now of Paris Saint-Germain, and Chelsea’s Oscar, are two other youngsters called up.

Among the other brave decisions are the exclusion of Ramires, which I think is a mistake, and the inclusion of Leandro Damiao. The internacional striker has lost some of his gloss recently but Felipao likes an old style No. 9 and Leandro Damiao fits that bill.

Brazil still look weak at the full back positions, especially if Marcelo and Daniel Alves get injured. I don’t rate either of them too highly and Marcelo is always liable to lose the rag.

Brazil play England in a friendly at the Maracana on June 2 and then face France in Porto Alegre a week later. The Confederations Cup kicks off on June 15.

The full squad, from the CBF home page:

Goleiros

Julio Cesar – Queens P. Rangers

Diego Cavlaieri – Fluminense

Jefferson – Botafogo

 

Zagueiros

Thiago Silva – Paris Saint Germain

Rever – Atlético Mineiro

David Luiz – Chelsea

Dante – Bayern de Munique

 

Laterais

Daniel Alves – Barcelona

Jean – Fluminense

Marcelo – Real Madrid

Filipe Luís – Atlético de Madrid

 

Meio-campo

Fernando – Grêmio

Hernanes – Lazio

Luiz Gustavo – Bayern de Munique

Paulinho – Corinthians

 

Meia atacantes/atacantes

Jadson – São Paulo

Oscar – Chelsea

Lucas – Paris Saint Germain

Hulk – Zenit

Bernard – Atlético Mineiro

Leandro Damião – Internacional

Fred – Fluminense

Neymar – Santos

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.

Pele croppedAs Brazil prepare to play Italy in Felipao’s second friendly match on Thursday night, here’s a reminder of why such games are taking place in Geneva, a home stadium for neither country.

Among the reasons: Time, money, and globalisation, as I say in my Reuters story from last year.

“It’s a trend,” says the headline and it’s not wrong.

It’s increasingly common for two international teams to face off in a third country.

The matchups and venues often sound completely random. Ireland have played Italy in Belgium and Oman in England. England have faced Brazil in Qatar and Italy in Switzerland. Argentina have taken on Nigeria in Bangladesh and Venezuela in India.

At least Brazil vs. Italy is more attractive than Brazil against Iraq in Sweden or Brazil against Japan in Poland.

Here’s the most iconic image of Pele, taken from the mural that surrounds Santos’s training ground. For no other reason than it’s cool.

Romario (cited in my story criticising the lack of a public transportation legacy) showing the red card in a cool piece of art in Sao Paulo

Romario (cited in my story criticising the lack of a public transportation legacy) showing the red card in a cool piece of art in Sao Paulo

I am often asked, What do think the World Cup will be like in Brazil in 2014?

My stock answer goes something like this:

“Visitors will have a great time. It is a dream come true for any real football fan to see the World Cup in Brazil and they will be made very welcome by Brazilians. In addition to the games themselves, they can enjoy beaches, music, nightlife, the lot. But when they all go home, the average Brazilian won’t have a lot to show for it. Authorities are not adding the public transportation links they promised, airports will still be a mess and communications will still be deficient. And we’ll still be paying way over the odds for everything.”

I wrote a long piece for Reuters that came out today about public transportation and how cities and states all over Brazil are breaking their initial promises to provide trams, express bus lanes, highways and metro lines in time for the World Cup.

The story says that,

     Although exact numbers are still changing, at least a dozen of the 49 original projects have changed completely and won’t be ready by the time the tournament kicks off off on June 12, 2014.

    Five cities – Brasilia, Fortaleza, Manaus, Salvador and Sao Paulo – won’t have the promised tram lines, express lanes for buses or metro links ready, according to Brazil’s Federal Audits Court.

    “The much discussed social legacy looks like it won’t get off the drawing board,” Romario, a former World Cup winner who is now a lawmaker in Brazil’s Congress, wrote last month in a newspaper column. “Almost all the transport projects are behind schedule, some have been put back and will be opened only after the World Cup and others have been cancelled altogether.”

This is one of the big tragedies of the 2014 World Cup.

The second is that more people aren’t demanding that those responsible for the broken promises be held accountable.

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