Doubts over Brazil's readiness for World Cup amid protests

Doubts over Brazil's readiness for World Cup amid protests
A boy draped in the Brazilian flag standing in front of policemen during a protest by metro workers in Sao Paulo.

The bulk of the 32 participating teams have arrived in Brazil. Scores of fans from all over the world have also begun descending on the South American nation for the region's first World Cup in 36 years. There is no mistaking it - football's biggest show is about to kick off.

But with stadiums and transport infrastructure yet to be fully completed, and strikes and protests threatening to take the gloss away from tomorrow's (Friday Singapore time) Brazil-Croatia opening match, serious doubts are being raised as to whether the nation of 200 million people is indeed ready for the event.

On Monday, a worker was killed when a beam fell at the construction site of a Sao Paulo monorail project, which is behind schedule and is expected to be completed only well after the tournament ends.

The monorail was to have linked the Congonhas airport, which handles mainly domestic flights, to three metro lines, easing the heavy traffic in Brazil's biggest city.

But even the subways may not be up and running. Although the city's subway system was back to being fully operational yesterday morning, after almost all of Sao Paulo's 8,000 subway staff went on a five-day strike, the strike may be resumed if unions' demands for higher pay, among others, are not met.

The crippling of the subway system had caused chaos on Sao Paulo's already congested streets. Visitors making their way from Guarulhos International Airport to the city centre found that what is normally an hour's ride took three times as long, as traffic at major expressways and roads was almost at a standstill.

The Sao Paulo impasse has prompted a subway workers' union in Rio de Janeiro to also consider similar action. It said it would vote yesterday evening on whether they would go on strike.

The grim events off the field have led to members of the Brazil football team appealing for a truce. Barcelona defender Dani Alves supported the protests that marred last year's Confederations Cup, also hosted in Brazil. But he called for a temporary resolution this time round during a press conference at Brazil's training camp on Monday.

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