World Cup jitters, again
Violence flared again in Rio de Janeiro on Monday, with just six weeks to go to the soccer World Cup 2014 in Brazil.
Infrastructure upgrades, including stadium construction and readiness concerns, unrest rumblings and uncertainty... there is a sense of déjà vu as we watch developments there ahead of kick-off between Brazil and Croatia in São Paulo on June 12.
The immense challenge of hosting the event in 2010 had doom prophets rubbing their hands in glee. One British newspaper even highlighted the danger of snakes at the English team’s base camp and on its practice field.
There was much talk before the tournament of “Plan B”, moving it to Australia or elsewhere. But, in spite of hitches here and there, it turned out to be a world class event and a highlight for democratic South Africa.
So much for those who thought we were a Third World basket case.
The big difference between 2010 here and this year in Brazil is that the unrest blazing across that country underlines the reality that, whereas the World Cup served to unite us as a nation, it is threatening to tear Brazil apart.
Last year saw street protests by Brazilians angry at the billions being spent on infrastructure for the World Cup and Olympics instead of on public housing, roads, the poor – and ending violent crime.
Police in recent months have stepped up efforts to clear slums, favelas as they are known, of violent criminals before kick-off – and the Olympics in 2016. A “pacification” programme started six years ago to this end, but the gangs have been fighting back and it has been bloody.
World football body Fifa and Brazilian leaders have expressed confidence in that country’s ability to deal with the violence. We hope they are right, and that the month-long contest goes off just as well as ours.