Sun, surf, samba.


For most, this is the image they conjure when they think of Brazil.

A laid back, party-loving, football-obsessed country that will stage the biggest celebration on earth when the World Cup begins in June.

The reality however, is far removed from this picture-perfect postcard.

Some 600,000 foreign fans are about to descend on the vast South American nation, with questions still lingering about its ability to successfully organise, finance and deliver such a massive global event.

Only weeks remain and Brazil is still racing the clock to be ready for the tournament, with its build-up for the Rio 2016 Olympics in just as much disarray.

Even more concerning, this chaotic preparation is playing out against a backdrop of social unrest, corruption and crime.

Ready or not, the World Cup will kick off on June 12 with 64 matches to be played in 12 cities across the country.

Half of the 12 stadiums missed their end of year deadlines with FIFA threatening to drop some of them as official venues as the governing body’s president Sepp Blatter declared it “the most delayed World Cup since I have been at FIFA.”

Dr Sean Burges is a lecturer in international relations and a senior associate of the Australian National Centre for Latin American studies at The Australian National University.

An expert in the social and political climate of Brazil, he says there were always going to be problems but, having visited the country recently, he has no doubt it will deliver.

“This is not to say it won’t be a little messy around the edges, accommodation is going to be expensive, transportation is going to be slow,” he told AAP.

“But what you have to keep in mind is when you choose to put events like the Olympics or the World cup in developing nations, you’re not going to Switzerland.”

Most Brazilians would consider themselves passionate football fans but a significant number are angry about the huge amounts of money the government is spending on the World Cup at the cost of crucial public services.

Mass protests have been staged across the country since last year’s Confederations Cup, with the demonstrations likely to continue during the month-long World Cup.

Dr Burges feels having two major sporting events – the World Cup and Olympics – in such close succession will be seen as the perfect vehicle for the angry masses to shine a light on their concerns.

Brazil is one of the world’s rising economic powers, and over the past decade it has made major strides in its efforts to raise millions out of poverty.

This advancement, Dr Burges says, means more people are now in a position to hold the government to account.

“I’m sure there will be some large and vibrant protests but this won’t be directed at the people who have come to watch the games or the athletes, it’s directed at the president, it’s directed against FIFA and it’s a legitimate complaint,” he said.

“How can you spend $40 billion or so on the World Cup and the Olympics yet not have hospitals that work and decent public transport or primary schools that are properly staffed?

“You’ve had 35 million people or so come from dirt poverty up to the middle class in the last 10 years and part of what comes with that is people stop accepting the empty answers they’re getting and demand responsiveness.

“The World Cup and the Olympics are just going to serve as a perfect foil to make this happen.”

Making things more interesting is that 2014 is an election year for Brazil – the world’s largest democracy.

Late preparations for the World Cup have already embarrassed the country, while those for the Rio Games were slammed by International Olympic Committee vice-president John Coates as “the worst” he’s seen.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has unsurprisingly suffered in the polls as a result.

But one thing that may ultimately save people’s reputations and political careers is if the host nation wins the World Cup, as they’re favoured to do, and in the ensuing wave of euphoria all is forgiven.

“President Dilma is falling like a stone in the polls and if Brazil doesn’t do well in the World Cup I think she’s in serious political trouble,” Dr Burges said.

Politics and social discontent aside, Dr Burges feels Brazilians’ innate passion for what they call joga bonito – the beautiful game – will take over.

“I think this World Cup will be an really interesting mix of a party and a really serious social, political discussion at the same time,” he said.

“But at the end of the day the country genuinely loves football and it’s genuinely delighted to have the world coming to play their game at their house.”

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