Brazilian leader backs spending on World Cup

Updated: 2014-06-12 06:55

By Associated Press in Rio de Janeiro (China Daily)

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Brazil's president took to the prime-time airwaves on Tuesday night to deliver a prerecorded speech in which she tried to rally the nation behind the World Cup, an event that has stoked countless protests from those angered by the billions spent on it.

President Dilma Rousseff rebuked the "pessimists" who oppose the tournament, saying they've already lost. She called on all Brazilians to support the national team regardless of their political persuasion or whether they fully agree with the nation hosting the event.

Rousseff also defended the $11.5 billion spent on the Cup. Three out of every four Brazilians polled say they are convinced that corruption has tinged the myriad works related to the Cup.

An Associated Press investigation earlier this year found that big construction firms responsible for building the bulk of the stadiums, roads and other works had dramatically increased their campaign contributions since Brazil was named as the host of this year's Cup.

Much of that money was funneled to Rousseff's ruling Workers Party, though spending also went to the opposition. In one case, top builder Andrade Gutierrez, which has helped build or renovate four stadiums, hiked campaign contributions 500 times from one election to the next after it was determined which 12 cities would host matches.

That stoked anger and increased suspicions about collusion between politicians and the big builders - especially after reports from government auditors began to surface, indicating massive cost overruns along with allegations of price-gouging, principally in the building of stadiums. For instance, the cost of the stadium in Brasilia, a city with no major professional soccer team, has nearly tripled to $900 million from original price estimates published by the government.

"Have no doubt, the accounts of the Cup are being meticulously analyzed by auditing agencies," Rousseff said. "If any irregularity exists, those responsible will receive the maximum punishment."

Public spending row

She also rebuked those who argue Brazil has spent too much on the Cup, saying that since 2010, the government has spent more than 200 times what it invested in stadiums on education and healthcare systems.

But many Brazilians argue that comparing the raw amounts of money misses the point. They point to the spending on the Cup as emblematic of misspending, mismanagement and underscore that despite what is spent on public works, they remain in a woeful state.

About half of Brazilians polled have said they're against hosting the World Cup, and the mood is mixed about the event just days before it starts.

Rousseff, whose poll numbers are slipping ahead of an October political election, concluded her speech by urging all Brazilians to rally around their team, whom she addressed directly.

"Beneath those green and canary jerseys, you embody a powerful legacy of the Brazilian people. The national team represents nationality," she said. "It's above governments, parties and interests of any group."

(China Daily 06/12/2014 page12)