Brazil crime clouds World Cup, Olympics

Nov. 29, 2012 at 12:11 PM
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RIO DE JANEIRO, Nov. 29 (UPI) -- Brazil is facing increased pressure from international sports officials to clean up its crime-ridden cities and demonstrate a convincing reform of infrastructure-building programs before the 2014 FIFA World Cup and 2016 Olympics.

Criticism of Brazil's apparently slow response to the twin challenges of staging the major sport events has come from within the country and from outside. Brazil expects to spend at least $15 billion on infrastructural development before the two events.

FIFA General Secretary Jerome Valcke is unpopular in Brazilian government circles because of comments earlier in the year, for which he apologized after a diplomatic row.

Valcke was reported saying in March that Brazil needed a "kick up the backside" to be ready for the 2014 World Cup, but several clarifications later, the rift was healed. That comment has stuck, however.

The latest controversy centers on security in Brazilian cities after the business capital of Sao Paulo was rocked by gang violence and an equally violent and controversial police response to the wave of violence.

In Rio de Janeiro, authorities are struggling to brush up the city's image with little visible progress on displacing crime-infested slums seen to be under the thumb of competing organized criminals organizations involved with narcotics, extortion, money laundering and prostitution.

Valcke was in the news again after he expressed concern over the crime waves in Sao Paulo and other cities and what he called major gaps in infrastructural development before the World Cup.

"We are seeing a big wave of crime in Sao Paulo, which is not good for its image or tourism," Valcke said.

Also, hotel capacity lagged behind seating capacity in stadiums being prepared for the tournaments, he said.

Both Rio and Sao Paulo lack hotel capacity to cope with an expected surge in demand before the World Cup and, two years later, the Olympics.

FIFA officials expect at least 500,000 overseas visitors during the World Cup and warn that Brazil may struggle to meet that demand.

Valcke also cited much needed improvements in public transport and airport capacity to handle an expected increase in the frequency of flights before and during the World Cup.

The sport official's most recent comments were seen by Brazilian analysts as less combative and more conciliatory.

"We have now moved from talking about the problems to talking about the solutions. We are able to find and answer the problems," Valcke said.

In parts of the Brazilian sport establishment, even the government, Valcke remains unwelcome, or tolerated at best, analysts said.

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