After successful World Cup, spotlight turns to Rio's Olympic woes

Mon Jul 14, 2014 12:59pm EDT
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By Paulo Prada

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - After a month of scintillating soccer and few of the logistical nightmares that many feared would mar the World Cup, Brazil is touting its success and promising the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro will be just as good.

To hear Brazilian officials in recent days, the hand-wringing before the World Cup, which ended on Sunday with Germany beating Argentina in the final, was unjustified.

"The only tragedy of the World Cup was that Brazil was beaten," Rio's mayor, Eduardo Paes, said on Friday, referring to the national team's drubbing by Germany earlier in the week.

That is, of course, if you don't count a concrete overpass, one of many unfinished infrastructure projects that were supposed to have been completed before the tournament, that collapsed and killed two people in Belo Horizonte, one of the 12 host cities, days before a semi-final match there.

Or the fact that many problems were averted only because Brazil essentially shut down during the tournament. In a country where public services and infrastructure routinely buckle, officials avoided the usual traffic jams, overpacked trains and airport chaos by declaring holidays around most games.

Despite a smooth ride for visiting soccer fans, the approach prompts many in Brazil to argue that the World Cup, rather than showcasing progress, has revealed age-old habits of slipshod and improvisation that make it impossible to deliver quality social services or fast, sustained economic growth.

"It's always about minimizing risk here, not building the type of facilities and services that can handle the actual needs of the country," says Paulo Fleury, an infrastructure and logistics expert at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. "There's no effort to really improve overall capacity. You just tell people to stay home and make way for the visitors."

Instead of leading to vast improvements of the sort that the government promised when Brazil won the right to host the World Cup, delivering the "legacy" benefits to justify the $11 billion price tag of hosting it, many now fear the perceived success of the past month will merely endorse Brazil's knack for doing just enough – not all that it could.   Continued...

Germany's players pose for pictures as they celebrate with their World Cup trophy after winning their 2014 World Cup final against Argentina at the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro July 13, 2014. REUTERS/Michael Dalder