Maracana stadiumRIO DE JANEIRO — The question dogging Brazil’s preparations for its massive two-phase coming-out party — the 2014 FIFA World Cup soccer tournament followed by the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games — is whether the country will be ready to play on the world stage.

As Brazil prepares to pull off two highly ambitious international sporting events without a hitch, infrastructure and security are top of mind here.

A particularly nagging question for the country as it prepares for the millions of visitors who will descend on the country next summer and again two years later is whether Brazil will be able to keep the peace, especially during the World Cup.

Feeding anxiety about safety and security issues were the sometimes violent political protests that broke out during the FIFA Confederations Cup earlier this year, an event widely viewed as a test run for hosting the World Cup.

Brazil’s image as a country constantly battling crime and violence hasn’t been helped by reports like one that ran in the Sunday New York Times sports section in October, which detailed a double murder in a small village in northeastern Brazil that took place during a local soccer match. The article painted an image of a country imbued with a culture of violence.

Local and federal officials here are making determined efforts to demonstrate that they’re aware of the potential problems and are working to monitor and control them.

“In every big event, because it’s a good opportunity for bad people to do what they want to do, it’s our obligation and our need to take care of the city,” said Pedro Junqueira, director of the Rio Operations Center, a crisis management effort that was inaugurated in December 2010.

A recent tour of the center revealed a high-tech facility anchored by a central control room that streams live video from 570 surveillance cameras positioned around the city to 80 screens on which authorities can monitor transportation, traffic, weather and points of interest throughout the city.

The goal, said Junqueira, is to establish better communication between all the different facets of the municipality, whether it’s the police force, utility companies or media, so that Rio can quickly and effectively respond to whatever situation arises, from traffic jams to demonstrations.

World Cup readiness

One of the central elements for the World Cup, Rio’s storied Maracana stadium, which hosted the 1950 World Cup to a record crowd of some 200,000 spectators, is ready for prime time. The largest stadium in South America, Maracana reopened in June after a three-year renovation project. It is the site of the World Cup final as well as a number of earlier-round matches.

Maracana’s outer structure was left intact during its 2014 World Cup renovation, but seating was reconfigured to meet FIFA’s comfort and safety standards, resulting in a stadium with a capacity of 73,531. VIP lounges and seating areas have been added, along with an expansive press area and ample space for concession outlets lining the stadium’s interior halls.

Getting to Maracana and around Rio is made somewhat easier by the city’s subway system, which while minimal (there are only two main lines) is clean and efficient and includes access to downtown Rio and Maracana. An additional stop in the popular tourist area, Ipanema, is slated to open as an extension of Line 1 in December 2015.

There is also a new rapid-transit bus system that serves the neighborhoods of Copacabana, Leblon, Ipanema and downtown Rio. By 2016, three more rapid-transit routes are scheduled to be opened, to connect the city to Olympics sites in the Barra da Tijuca and Deodoro neighborhoods as well as Antonio Carlos Jobim Airport.

Rio ops centerGiven the city’s unrelenting traffic problems, attendees at the World Cup and Olympics events would be well advised to take public transit whenever possible.

The World Cup always poses the additional logistical challenge of taking place in multiple host cities. In Brazil’s case, there will be 12, which means teams, officials and fans will need to be able to crisscross the country with relative ease. This is where Brazil continues to face serious challenges.

First, Brazil has to find a way to create enough domestic airlift to get players, spectators and media around the huge country. There has been talk of giving international carriers permission to fly domestic routes, but even then, the country’s airports will need to be expanded to handle the larger crowds, something they show no sign of dealing with yet.

Even the large airports do not seem ready: Recent flights into and out of Rio and the capital, Brasilia, brought long waits in lines at baggage claim and check-in.
Infrastructure and investment

Traveling around Rio and Brasilia, a common theme seemed to be the ways in which the World Cup and Olympics are motivating investments that will benefit both visitors and Brazilians well after the final matches and closing ceremonies.

“There’s a lot of improvements under way,” said Saint-Clair Milesi, communications director for FIFA’s Local Organizing Committee in Brazil. “There’s a bus rapid transit system in Rio … new terminals are being built. There are a lot of things already happening. It’s not just for the World Cup; it’s for the country.”

Indeed, parts of Rio are shrouded by scaffolding as enhancements are being made to much-needed transit projects and high-profile urban redevelopment plans, such as the ambitious Porto Maravilha Project, which aims to completely revitalize Rio’s port region.

One of the first successes of the $3.5 billion port project — most of which will be ready in time for the Olympics but not the World Cup — is the $35 million Museu de Arte do Rio, or MAR, which opened in March.

The impressive structure connects a colonial-style building that houses Rio-centric exhibitions to a modern educational facility, exemplifying the kind of investment and rejuvenation the World Cup and Olympics can inspire.

On a recent Saturday, MAR was clearly a popular cultural and social hub for tourists and locals alike.

Other upgrades to the 54-million-square-foot port area include construction of a new road system that will result in several tunnels replacing existing above-ground traffic.

The Museu do Amanha (Museum of Tomorrow), designed by famed architect Santiago Calatrava, is being built on a pier jutting dramatically over the water; it is slated for completion in time for the Olympics. Other upgrades will include 7 million square feet of sidewalks, 11 miles of bike paths and the planting of 15,000 trees.

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