Brazilian city Belo Horizonte has escaped FIFA’s wrath over preparations for the 2014 World Cup and its dynamic young executive coordinator believes that the city can now become the epicenter for the tournament.
Flavia Rohlfs, who was headhunted by the mayor of Belo Horizonte from the world’s second largest mining company Vale, told AFP that Belo Horizonte is hoping to become the hub of the finals as it is ideally situated geographically.
The city itself is hosting six games — including a second round match and a semi-final with Brazil set to play in the former if they top their group — as well as three Confederations Cup games next year.
Rohlfs, who has been in London attending the Olympic Games, said the reason Belo had been ahead of the rest of the host cities was they had been ready with a plan even before the announcement was made that Brazil would host the finals.
“We’re not doing anything special for the World Cup, we’re trying to use it to improve our city,” she told AFP.
“We are trying to put the infrastructure in place such as transport that will benefit the city for years to come.
“Thus when we went to the Federal Government we had our plans ready and we were the first to receive the funds in the form of a financial loan.
“Most of the cities thought about how to deal with the World Cup after the decision.
“We are really on schedule, the 64,000 capacity Mineirao Stadium will be completed by December 21 while everything else will be ready as planned by the end of next year.”
Aside from the Mineirao — where former world footballer of the year Ronaldinho is due to play next season — other projects launched and on track include three new BRT lines (Bus Rapid Transport, overland metro on wheels) and two main roads.
Rohlfs, though, is determined that with already 200,000 football tourists expected many more will also come as she says the city the New York Times dubbed ‘the World Bar Capital’ (it has 12,000) has much to offer.
“It is a perfect city for tourists and football fans to stay,” she said.
“It is in the center of Brazil and has a perfect climate as the south will be very cold and the north will be extremely hot.
“The temperature will be good for the players too [21 degrees generally] and it has a great nightlife as well as a rich football heritage with three teams.”
Rohlfs says talks were held with hoteliers to ensure prices would not be hiked up to exorbitant levels.
“Sao Paolo and Rio are more expensive than Belo Horizonte and we have worked hard with the hotels to instill in them that this is not a chance for short term profit but a new chapter.
“It is a long term investment in the events market.”
Rohlfs said that unlike Rio where crime is rampant, Belo offered a safe environment although measures were being taken to ensure all fans would feel secure.
“It is a safe city. But we want all those who come here to know that a lot of investment has been made in security and we are building a new operational center.”
Rohlfs and her team have been willing travelers in search of ideas about how best to host top level football matches even down to the finest detail as she related about her experience at Euro 2012 in co-host Poland.
“We wanted to see how it is to be in a country where you do not speak the language,” she said. “We believe that good signs can make things a lot easier for the football fan who doesn’t speak that country’s language.
“Once I was going to a match at the stadium in Warsaw and there were two options to get to it but no signs indicating which was the best one for the two sets of supporters.
“In the end we chose one option and were told to go back which if there had been proper signs would not have happened.”
Rohlfs admits that despite all the good headlines garnered there was no sense of yet of a goal achieved.
“I’m very pleased and I am very enthusiastic [about the preparations],” she said.
“I wake up every morning and there are always a lot of challenges but it makes me excited and I prefer the unpredictable side of life. There is something we learn every day. We have to be creative and practical.”