World Cup leaves Brazil costly stadiums, poor public transport

World Cup leaves Brazil costly stadiums, poor public transport

BRASILIA - When the final whistle blows at the World Cup, Brazilians will be left with some of the world's costliest football stadiums and few of the public transport improvements they were promised.

Long-overdue airport upgrades have been made just in time for the World Cup which starts on June 12 but many of the longer-term investments in rapid transit systems in Brazil's main cities have been delayed or scrapped.

Seven years have passed since Brazil won the right to host this World Cup. Then-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva vowed to use the tournament to shake off underdevelopment and modernize Brazil, a coming out party for an emerging power on the global stage.

While some much-needed investments have been completed, Brazil has fallen far short of what it promised for the Cup and many Brazilians see it as a squandered opportunity regardless of what happens on the pitch.

The signature project in public transportation was to be Latin America's first bullet train, a $16 billion high-speed rail service linking Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. It never made it off the drawing board.

"The jump to modernity never happened, and the stadiums are a herd of white elephants," said Gil Castello Branco of Contas Abertas, a private group that monitors government spending.

Brazil has invested 25.8 billion reais ($11.3 billion) in Cup-related infrastructure improvements, a third of which went into building or overhauling stadiums in a dozen host cities.

Four arenas were built in cities that have only third-tier football teams and small chance of recovering the investment: Manaus, Natal, Cuiaba and the capital Brasilia, where the magnificent National Stadium cost 1.6 billion reais, more than double the original price tag.

City auditors say Brazil's most costly stadium still needs 300 million reais to finish the exteriors after the World Cup.

The huge sums spent on the stadiums helped fuel massive street protests last year by Brazilians fed up with poor public services and corrupt politicians. They said the money would have been better spent on hospitals, schools and public transport.

The anti-World Cup movement has vowed to stage new protests nationwide aimed at disrupting the 32-nation football tournament.

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