Papal visit fiascos raise concern ahead of Brazil World Cup
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil - A series of fiascos during Pope Francis's visit this week have raised fresh concerns about Brazil's ability to stage next year's World Cup and the 2016 Rio summer Olympics.
The pontiff's first overseas trip to join hundreds of thousands of young pilgrims at World Youth Day, a major Catholic festival, has turned into a daily ordeal for Rio authorities.
"If you ask me to grade the organization of World Youth Day (WYD), I would say we are closer to zero than to 10," embattled Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes told CBN radio.
"I am aiming for perfection, but when I cannot achieve it, I don't blame others and do not shirk my responsibility. Blame it on me, but don't destroy the image of our city," he added.
But, the mayor said, "I give a 10 to WYD, to the pope and the population."
The arrival of Pope Francis on Monday, Juy 22, was marred by security lapses, as his car was trapped several times by throngs of adoring well-wishers.
The city`s transport system has also been overwhelmed by the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims who sought to reach events on the famed Copacabana beach, sparking traffic chaos.
And organizers had to move Sunday's final WYD mass to Copacabana because the original site outside Rio became a mud field after days of rain.
Workers had toiled for months to build a huge stage in Guaratiba, but the site that was dubbed "the field of faith" will remain empty this weekend.
The pilgrims, who will hold an all-night vigil from Saturday to Sunday, will instead camp out on Copacabana.
Rio failed the test
The succession of woes did not dampen the spirits of Kirki Georgakotoulous, a 57-year-old shopkeeper.
"We are Cariocas (Rio residents) and in spite of all the organization failings, we believe that the legacy of fraternity left by Pope Francis makes up for them and is very important."
Bu the daily Estado de Sao Paulo on Thursday, July 25, said these problems "raise further doubt about (the country's) capacity to organize major events.
"The upshot is that Rio failed the test," said Chris Gaffney, a US academic who studies the urban impact of major sporting events.
Gaffney said this did not come as a surprise to him, pointing to "structural failings and a lack of professionalism."
"If you insert one to two million extra people in a city with a fragile infrastructure – sewage and health systems – you are bound to have problems," he added.
Challenge for the World Cup
Gaffney sees public security as the main challenge for the World Cup.
"Football fans are not nice Catholic pilgrims. When you see the violence with which police break up demonstrations, imagine what will happen if they have to deal with 2,000 British drunken and excited football fans," he said.
"The police have to be trained. They have to be demilitarized now," he added.
For the 2016 summer Olympics, the main challenge is the transport system.
"If the metro system does not work, it will be a disaster," Gaffney said.
And there is no guarantee that the metro extension under way between central Rio and the Barra da Tijuca district, where the Olympic village will be located, will be completed in time.
There has also been widespread public anger over the billions of dollars being earmarked for these big sporting events while public services are grossly underfunded.
Many fear the massive demonstrations that erupted last month – the biggest in the country in 20 years – could flare anew if authorities do not move quickly to address protesters' concerns over corruption and poor public services.
The world football governing body FIFA was unnerved by the occasionally violent protests staged outside host stadiums.
"If this happens again we have to question whether we made the wrong decision awarding the hosting rights (to Brazil)," FIFA President Sepp Blatter said recently. - Rappler.com