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The Warsaw Voice » Society » June 3, 2014
Soccer World Cup
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Brazil Beckons
June 3, 2014   
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More than 3 billion watched the 2010 World Cup in South Africa on television. The upcoming World Cup in Brazil, due to start June 12, may draw an even bigger audience. The streets will empty and pubs and fan zones will be packed out—including in Poland, although the Polish squad is not going to Brazil. Nor will there be any Polish referees at the World Cup.

After a hiatus of 64 years, the World Cup, the world’s biggest soccer tournament, is returning to Brazil, a country where soccer is a religion. It promises to be a tournament of contradictions—on the one hand, virtuosos who create moments of magic on the pitch and a tradition of soccer glory; on the other, unfinished stadiums, deaths during construction work, areas of poverty, and riots in the streets.

No roof, no problems

The opening match of the Euro 2012 tournament in Warsaw was played with the roof closed at the National Stadium. Fans and journalists complained about the stench and the heat. The Brazilian World Cup organizers do not have such a problem. The roof over the stadium in São Paulo, where the opening match between Brazil and Croatia will be held June 12, will not be closed because it will not be completed by then. The company responsible for the assembly of the roof says that, due to a lack of time, the roof structure will not be ready until after the tournament. But the good news is that Brazilian authorities have changed their mind and given the go-ahead for the installation of 20,000 temporary seats. The Itaquera-Arena Corinthians Stadium in São Paulo is expected to accommodate 65,807 spectators. In addition to the opening match, five other matches will be played there, including one semifinal.

Delays, protests, deaths

Trouble with the roof is not the only problem haunting the builders of the Brazilian World Cup venues. Work on most of the stadiums is behind schedule. As the World Cup kickoff draws near, there have been mounting waves of protests accompanying construction work. Demonstrations have taken place in the capital Brasilia, where residents protested over huge government expenditure on hosting the tournament, as well as in São Paulo, where barricades built from burning tires appeared on the main streets of the city, and demonstrators occupied areas near the stadium that had been vacated for the construction project. The authorities had evicted families living there.

A number of builders died during the construction of the stadiums. First a crane collapsed and destroyed a part of a metal roof structure, resulting in a collapsed portion of the stands. Three people were killed. Recently, a worker died while assembling seats, after falling to the ground from a height of 15 meters. In total, the organizers have acknowledged that there have been seven deaths on stadium construction sites. FIFA has sent its condolences to the local soccer federation, but demanded explanations.

Fan zones

The Brazilians do not want fan zones to be set up during the World Cup. The host cities are against creating such zones, quoting high costs, but FIFA insists that a World Cup without fan zones would mean a big loss in terms of tournament atmosphere, because fan zones are a traditional fixture in the World Cup landscape. Although no one is saying it out loud, also significant are sponsorship contracts, so it is difficult to imagine that no fan zones will emerge in Brazil. Meanwhile, such zones will be set up in Poland, though not on the same scale as those during Euro 2012. Fan zones will be organized not by cities, but by restaurants and pubs. But they are bound to be loud and lively.

World Cup on TV

After Sweden were eliminated from the tournament in the playoffs, their biggest star, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, said that without him the World Cup would be worthless and that he would not even be watching it on TV. Fortunately, viewers will have a chance to watch many other star players during the hundreds of hours they will spend in front of the television screen. The kickoff is June 12 at 10:00 p.m. Polish time. During the group stage, Polish television will be broadcasting three matches a day, at 6:00 p.m., 9:00 p.m. and midnight. The only exceptions will be the opening day and June 14, when four matches will be played, the last at 3:00 a.m. Those who nod off to sleep by then or do not have understanding bosses at work will be able to watch reruns.

Poles in Brazil

Although Polish soccer players are not going to Rio, at least three non-sports Polish teams are preparing to leave for Brazil. The first is a television crew with big-name sportscaster Dariusz Szpakowski. In addition to this experienced commentator, Jacek Laskowski, Maciej Iwański and Tomasz Jasina will also be handling the broadcasts for Polish television, which will feature a total of 34 cameras. Another team comprises former soccer players who are now experts with Polish public television broadcaster TVP: Grzegorz Mielcarski, Marcin Żewłakow, Rafał Ulatowski and Kamil Kosowski. The third and probably most numerous group will be made up of winners of dozens of contests offering tickets for the matches. These are being organized by companies producing chips, beer, oil, batteries, sodas, sports equipment, photographic and electronic equipment and many other goods.

Volunteering for Rio

Also representing Poland in Rio will be Filip Kuźniar, a resident of the town of Łańcut and a law student in the southeastern city of Rzeszów. He will be working as a volunteer during the World Cup in Brazil, alongside 15,000 other volunteers from around the world who will be assisting the organizers during the event. A total of 150,000 people worldwide applied; the selection process yielded a shortlist of 15,000. Kuźniar was a volunteer during Euro 2012, but he did not have to incur such high costs then, because the event was held in Poland. This time things were far more difficult for him. World Cup volunteers are not paid for their work. The organizers provide them with food, transportation and insurance. Kuźniar had to pay for the flight and accommodation and arrange it on his own. He needed zl.10,000 and raised the money via the internet. He has been assigned to work in a ticket center in Rio de Janeiro. He will spend two-and-a-half months in Brazil. He will be posting daily reports during his stay at the World Cup on his blog.

Pantheon of stars

Ibrahimovic is not the only world-class player who will be absent in Brazil. Some stars will not have a chance to play at the World Cup because their teams have not qualified. Others did not find favor with their coaches and managers, while still others will be tending their injuries until the last minute. A plague of injuries has eliminated from the World Cup Spain’s Thiago Alcantara and Victor Valdes, England’s Theo Walcott, Holland’s Kevin Strootman, and Germany’s Ilkay Gundogan. A struggle against time continues for the recovery of Colombian striker Radamel Falcao and German player Bastian Schweinsteiger.

But fans will be able to watch plenty of other big-name players in Brazil. These include Argentina’s Leo Messi, Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Brazil’s Neymar, in addition to the Spanish squad, the world and European champions. Perhaps new soccer virtuosos will emerge during the Brazilian tournament, as with most previous World Cups.

Agnieszka Dokowicz
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