Doubts over Brazil's readiness for World Cup amid protests

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.

"I know that sometimes it is difficult to put the situation in our country to one side, but the whole world will be here and everyone deserves to be welcomed in the way the Brazilian people know how," he said.

Brazilians have long protested over the US$11 billion (S$13.8 billion) price tag of hosting the World Cup, questioning the need to build new stadiums, especially in areas like Natal, which does not have a big football fan base.

Instead of building white elephants, they question why more money is not being spent on building better schools and hospitals.

As Ms Liliana Leyton, a bank manager in Sao Paulo, told The Straits Times: "Brazilians love football, we're happy to welcome visitors. But we're also unhappy with a lot of things in this country. As much as we would like to enjoy the World Cup, we can't just forget about the problems."

Brazil is deploying almost 200,000 soldiers and police officers around the country for the tournament, as fresh talk emerged on Monday that demonstrations are being planned to coincide with the opening match at the Corinthians Arena.

The arena has yet to be tested on whether it can hold its full capacity of 61,600 fans.

Added hotel receptionist Ruan Goudinho: "Don't get us wrong. We love football, we love Brazil, we love the World Cup. We just don't support the World Cup in Brazil when there are all these problems."

This article was first published on June 11, 2014.
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