Middle East tracks Brazil’s sporting chances

06 August 2012

With Middle East countries vying to host international tournaments, they would be wise to look to Brazil, where preparations to host the next World Cup and Olympics events present opportunities and challenges in equal measure

Key fact

Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana stadium will host the final of the World Cup in 2014 and will be used for the Olympics tournament two years later.

Source: MEED

As it prepares to host football’s World Cup in 2022, Qatar has a lot to learn from Brazil, which will host the tournament in 2014 and the Olympic Games two years later.

Brazil is a country with a rich sporting heritage. The Brazilian football team is the most successful national side in the world, winning the Fifa World Cup on five occasions, the Copa America eight times and the Fifa Confederations Cup three times. The country has received international recognition for its proud association with football and other sports in the last decade, as the country has been chosen to host both the Fifa World Cup and the Olympics Games within years of each other.

World football’s governing body, Fifa, announced in 2003 that the World Cup in 2014 would be held in South America, in keeping with its policy to rotate the tournament through different continents. A bid from Argentina failed to materialise, while a proposal from Columbia was withdrawn in 2007, making Brazil the sole candidate to host the tournament.

Economic promise

The bidding process for the 2016 Olympic Games was more complex. Initially, the Brazilian Olympic Committee considered Sao Paulo as a candidate before it settled on Rio de Janeiro as the city to be put forward for the games. In total, seven cities from around the world submitted bids, of which four were shortlisted. The Middle East’s only representative in the bidding, Doha, was eliminated at this stage, although accusations were levelled at the International Olympic Committee (IOC) after it chose to dismiss the Doha bid even though it scored technically higher than Rio. The IOC explained Doha was eliminated because of its proposal of hosting the Games in October, away from the scorching temperatures of the Qatar summer.

Chicago, Madrid and Tokyo were the other three cities named with Rio as candidate hosts by the IOC. The Brazilian city then won the final round of voting against Madrid to secure the event in 2016.

Much of Brazil’s success was due to its strong economic promise, according to experts. “[Brazil] has a very avid consumer base and the country is growing. It has a very diverse industry,” says Diogo Jurema, project manager at Switzerland-based sports consultancy TSE Consulting.

“[Brazil has] a very diverse economy and a promising landscape with a strong tradition of practising sports”

Diogo Jurema, TSE Consulting

“You have oil production, naval construction, the automobile industry – it’s a very diverse economy and a promising landscape with a strong tradition of practising sports. The main difference with the Brazilian bid was this very promising landscape, this gold mine with many consumers and the economy booming,” he adds.

For the World Cup, Brazil has implemented several projects to either build from scratch or rebuild stadiums around the country, but the construction process has been dogged by delays and strikes. There were fears at one stage that Brazil would not be able to complete the necessary facilities in time for the tournament.

Jurema believes some of these issues arose from the bidding process. “Brazil was the sole runner to organise the event. I have no proof of this, but as a sole runner there may not have been so many discussions as to how things should operate timeline-wise and [in terms of the] number of host cities. There was no other bid offering any alternative to what Brazil was offering,” he says.

A total of 12 stadiums will be used during the tournament, each located in a capital city of one of the Brazilian states. The World Cup arenas have been evenly distributed across the country and vary in cost and size. The two leading high-profile projects are the Maracana stadium refurbishment and the Arena de Sao Paulo.

The Maracana stadium is Brazil’s most famous and will host the final of the World Cup in 2014. The ground used to hold 200,000 people and was also used for the final of the tournament in 1950, but has since had its capacity reduced due to safety issues. According to Fifa, $442m of investment will be put into refurbishing the venue. As well as being the biggest, most high-profile and most-used stadium of the upcoming World Cup, it is also almost certainly the most financially viable. The Maracana is located in Rio and will be used for the Olympics tournament two years later.

“The Olympics has all the build-up, but is also a big catalyst for regeneration”

Peter Flint, Aecom

The same cannot be said of the Arena de Sao Paulo, which has attracted major criticism for several reasons. Originally, the opening game of the tournament was to be held in a 73,000-seat stadium constructed for Sao Paulo FC, but the plans were rejected. Fifa and the Brazilian Football Association then urged Sao Paul FC’s bitter rivals Corinthians to build a new stadium that could be used for the tournament’s opening match. Corinthians, however, had no use for such a big facility, so an agreement was reached where the capacity of the new arena would be 48,000, with extra seats added for the World Cup, then removed afterwards. These types of additional costs have led politicians to question why the country is paying so much for its stadiums. In the Middle Ease, Qatar, too, has little need for mega-capacity arenas and has proposed designs that allow seating to be reduced after the World Cup.

The official estimate for the cost of all 12 Brazil stadiums stands at $3.68bn currently. This is much greater than the $1.87bn Germany spent on 12 arenas for the World Cup in 2006 and the $1.48bn spent by South Africa for 10 stadiums in 2010.

After the games

Regardless of the cost of staging tournaments such as the Fifa World Cup and the Olympics, countries will continue to see the events as a unique opportunity to boost retail, tourism and the international profile of host cities. Companies involved in the planning of the facilities used in the events believe there are many advantages for the cities after the international spotlight is removed. One such firm is Aecom, which has won the master-planning contract for the Olympic Park in Rio for the 2016 Games.

“The Olympics has all the build-up, but is also a big catalyst for regeneration. In London, a massive amount of regeneration [originally] planned to happen over a 50-year period has happened [within] a seven-year period. Rio has very different issues to London, but it certainly needs a lot of regeneration,” says Peter Flint, global head for sports and leisure at Aecom.

“I think one of the reasons why we were successful with our bid is that we focused very heavily on what’s left after the games. What are the improvements for the city? There’s already a lot of planning going into that,” says Flint.

However, charities, politicians and protesters have claimed there is a fine line to tread when planning regeneration for the World Cup. Solidar, a Swiss non-profit organisation concerned with social injustice, has claimed that 150,000 people will be evicted from their homes as a result of the tournament. It says poorer elements of the economy, such as street vendors, will also struggle due to Fifa’s insistence that tournament sponsors have exclusive sales rights for all World Cup merchandise. The same organisation has raised concerns over the working conditions for construction workers employed to build the stadiums. Labourers employed on World Cup projects have already been on strike 21 times over pay, accommodation and health insurance.

Back for more

Legacy is one of the major considerations of any country hosting a major sporting event, and Brazil is no exception. The prime concern for the cities involved is to ensure that their international reputations are enhanced and that tourists, or even future sporting events, are attracted back in the future. “The main challenge for Brazil is to think ahead and to try to do some city-branding planning that enhances its positioning on a national and international scale. This is one of the most challenging aspects of all this,” says Jurema.

“Brazil now is an interesting place and, as it is the host, people are curious to know what it is doing. But once the event ends, so does the interest of the international community. [Brazil needs] to plan the legacy,” he adds.

For the Middle East countries looking to host major international sporting events, legacy will be the most important issue. Qatar is not likely to need to make money out of the World Cup in 2022 directly and will instead use it an advertisement for the country. The Gulf state may need to bend to some of the preferences of Fifa to achieve the reputation boost it desires, and here it can learn direct lessons from Brazil.

The lower house of parliament in Brazil recently approved a bill allowing alcohol to be sold inside stadiums for the duration of the World Cup. This is usually banned in Brazil, but after pressure from Fifa, which counts American beer giant Budweiser among its major sponsors for the World Cup, the country appears to have made an exception.

Similar pressure will undoubtedly be put on Qatar to ensure that alcohol is readily available in the country during the tournament.

Brazil has hit some tough obstacles during its World Cup preparation in the form of strikes, delays and bad press, but it will benefit from hosting the Olympics just two years later. GCC countries, such as Qatar, may not enjoy such a luxury and would be wise to watch Brazil closely over the next few years. Bad press has meant Brazil has not always enjoyed the limelight these events has afforded it, but once the tournaments are over, the country’s main aim will be to hold that international attention for as long as possible.

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