(WFI) Football fans touching down in Sao Paulo over the next few days can expect a friendly welcome and smooth passage through customs, if INSIDER’s experience is anything to go by.
Arriving on Sunday, I was through customs in minutes. Travel advice from the transport desk officer, who spoke good English, led me to taking an airport bus to the city rather than a cab. Free Wi-fi and water on the journey. At 36 reals ($16), and another 10 reals on top, I was taken to the door of my hotel in Bela Vista just off Av. Paulista. A cab would have cost about $50-60.
Protests and Policing
Early afternoon: I was the only journalist on a media bus to Sao Paulo’s Itaquerao stadium, a journey that took just under one hour. It revealed the vastness of South America’s largest city, population 20 million, where the rich live alongside the poor, who make a life in the favelas.
Conspicuous by their absence were the lack of FIFA or Brazil 2014 World Cup banners on the stretch of road that ran through the deprived areas close to Arena Corinthians. Anti-government protests near the stadium in recent weeks and months have targeted Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff’s $11 billion spend on the World Cup at the expense of much-needed housing, education and other public services.
The scale of any protests on Thursday, when Brazil kick off the tournament against Croatia in Sao Paulo, and how the police tackle crowd disorder,
peaceful or otherwise, remains a concern for Brazil 2014 organisers and FIFA.
As locals mingled with foreign football fans outside Arena Corinthians, many taking photos of the $250 million stadium, there was a buzz of anticipation in the air, and barely a police presence. Security will be stepped in the coming days as crowds swell and excitement grows ahead of the long-awaited kick-off. Law enforcement activities will be carried out in the glare of the global media spotlight. A repeat of the violent confrontations between demonstrators and police witnessed at the Confederations Cup and earlier this year would be the worst possible start to the June 12 to July 13 FIFA showpiece.
On first glimpse, Arena Corinthians, with its two big blocks of temporary seats, is hardly an eye-catching stadium – a little ugly from the outside in fact. Nearly 68,000 will fill the stadium for the World Cup opener.
Unfinished around the edges – like Johannesburg’s Soccer City for South Africa 2010, the landscaping is virtually non-existent – workers are busy applying the final touches to get the venue ready. It won’t be. Seven years and four days before the 17:00 kick-off, the final tranche of temporary
seats is still not installed. Safety checks are being carried out and they are expected to go in on Monday.
Meanwhile, there’s still considerable work to do on the sponsors’ hospitality area. It consists of a series of marquees, with other infrastructure and decoration a long way from completion just days before the likes of Visa, adidas, Coca-Cola and Sony plan to throw a party for VIPs there.
Sunny Sunday in Sao Paulo – blue skies and 29 degrees. Temperature dips on Monday and Tuesday, down to 20, with rain forecast. Conditions pick up on Wednesday and Thursday expected to be 25 degrees. Perfect for the Brazil 2014 opener.
A couple of dozen media were dotted around the few hundred-seat media centre, as building work went on around them on the temporary help desks for telecommunications, photographers and other services. These were little more than shells, yet to be kitted out with cabling and equipment to serve their purpose in four days’ time.
The cafeteria is very much a work in progress, with just a couple of fridges of drinks and a few bags of crisps, pies and cheesy balls lying around. A bottle of Coca-Cola and medium-size bag of crisps set me back 14 real ($6.20). It can only get better.
By INSIDER editor Mark Bisson
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