Judge Brazil on World Cup delivery, not protests, says its government

The world should judge Brazil on how well it hosts the World Cup and not assume recent protests and strikes will derail the event, a government minister said on Wednesday, May 28, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
The world should judge Brazil on how well it hosts the World Cup and not assume recent protests and strikes will derail the event, a government minister said on Wednesday, May 28, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

RIO DE JANEIRO (AFP) - The world should judge Brazil on how well it hosts the World Cup and not assume recent protests and strikes will derail the event, a government minister said on Wednesday, May 28, 2014.

"We are confident we will deliver a fantastic World Cup in two weeks' time. We can only respond to prejudice with achievement," said Deputy Sports Minister Luis Fernandes.

Fernandes has been at pains over long and difficult months of preparation to show Brazil is capable of rising above the public discord over World Cup spending, which has soared beyond US$11 billion (S$13.8 billion).

Strikes by police, transport workers and teachers, protests by bow-and-arrow-wielding indigenous leaders, the late delivery of stadiums and a swathe of projects which never left the drawing board have fuelled pre-Cup tensions.

But just as the Australian team prepared to touch down in Brazil - the first team to arrive for the tournament, which kicks off on June 12 - Fernandes predicted his continent-sized, football-mad country would eventually see the Cup as a boon.

"We have to think beyond the World Cup. The benefits are huge," said Fernandes of "an opportunity to intensify (Brazil's) historical challenge to develop."

The hosts will only be able to make a "full assessment of economic and social returns after the World Cup", Fernandes told reporters in a conference call from Brasilia.

But he highlighted gains from last year's Confederations Cup dress rehearsal which, though dogged by unexpected social protests drawing more than a million people into the streets, was an economic success, generating around US$4.5 billion in tourist receipts.

Fernandes said the protests were a "natural facet of democracy" as pressure groups of all stripes seize an "opportunity to voice their demands before a global audience".

"They see an opportunity to make their case known and have global impact" via the media.

"I think that's natural. What we can't tolerate are acts of violence," he said.

Asked how Brazil planned to overcome transport disruption if a recent wave of bus drivers' strikes continues, Fernandes said: "We do have contingency plans."

He added the government did not have "any indication of massive strikes" disrupting the tournament, which opens in Sao Paulo when five-times champions and favourites Brazil meet Croatia.

Fernandes insisted that Brazilians should take a long-term view of the benefits of staging the event and the 2016 Olympics - South America's first, which Rio de Janeiro will host in two years' time.

Despite sluggish overhauls to outdated airports and poor transport links, plus the wholesale junking of many urban mobility schemes originally set to coincide with the football, Fernandes said he was optimistic Brazil would look back at the event as a success.

The long-term benefits would, he said, "become evident as people start using the infrastructure" put in place in the run-up to the World Cup but also beyond.

He also sought to allay fears of communications problems at stadiums, insisting the systems at all 12 venues had been tested and would be "fully operational", allowing "full connectivity".