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Soccer: Fiber optics matter more to Brazil than world title

By Brian Homewood

TURIN (Reuters) - While most Brazilians will be obsessed with winning a sixth world title when their country hosts the World Cup next year, the country's government insists it is more interested in fiber optics in the Amazon jungle.

For years, research institutes and universities in the region have been isolated from a high-speed broadband network which links their counterparts in the rest of the country. But thanks to the 2014 World Cup they are now connected.

"One of the things we have been able to do through telecommunications investments for the World Cup was to establish fiber optics connections to the Amazon region," deputy sports minister Luis Fernandes told Reuters in an interview during a visit to Italy for a presentation on this year's Confederations Cup which Italy will take part in.

"So we will now have a national broadband research network, something we always wanted to do in science and technology, because of the World Cup."

"These are benefits would not usually think about or associate with the World Cup."

Fernandes said such benefits were more important to the government than the winning the World Cup.

"The most important thing is to seize the opportunity the World Cup gives us to spur a number of strategic projects, that's more important than the image we project and it's more important than winning the World Cup," he said.

Brazil was awarded the World Cup in 2007 and announced ambitious plans for the building or improvement of airports, hotels, public transport which even included a high-speed rail link between Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo.

The country has faced criticism since because some of the originally announced public works will not be ready for the World Cup or have been shelved altogether.

These include a system of bus lanes for the Amazonian city of Manaus, a tram line which would link the capital Brasilia to its airport and another tram network in the city of Cuiaba.

Fernandes said part of the problem was down to differences between Brazil's various levels of government.

"Some of these projects are complex and the main complexity is that some are responsibility of municipal governments, others are under the responsibility of state governments and some projects that are dependent on close co-operation of state governments and mayors which doesn't always happen," he said.

RECALCITRANT MAYOR

"Manaus was one example where we had mobility projects which the state government wanted and the mayor was recalcitrant."

He added that some projects were simply cases of authorities thinking out loud and were not crucial to the World Cup.

"A number of projects were listed which were potential projects which could be of benefit," he said.

"The ones which were not crucial and could not be completed were taken out of the matrix of responsibility for the World Cup but they remain as a legacy because they were incorporated into the growth acceleration program."

Travel is likely to be a big headache for the supporters of the 31 visiting teams with huge distances to cover, no passenger trains and pot-holed highways.

That means more pressure will be placed on the domestic air network which is also limited and often sends passengers on multi-stop journeys or makes them fly thousands of kilometers out of their way to get a connection in Sao Paulo.

Fernandes said the government was looking at the problem and would authorize charter flights to carry fans between matches.

"We are in negotiation with the airlines to increase the number of flights between the host cities," he added.

"We are confident it will be sufficient," he added. "That is the problem of organizing a World Cup in a continental sized country because the distances are huge."

Despite all the much-publicized delays which have dogged preparations and worries over whether Brazil's infrastructure could cope, Fernandes said the government believed the country would leave a good impression.

"I think we will fulfill expectations in regards to that image of Brazil which already exists," he said. "It will be a huge party, it will be in the streets, a huge carnival in all of Brazil. People will be receptive to tourists, it will be a vibrant atmosphere, very musical."

"We hope to surprise and enchant the visitors with other positive attributes," he added.

"We want the games to be well-organized and visitors to be provided with good services," he said

"People will be able to other see other aspects of Brazil not normally associated with its global image in terms of a stable, democratic country which has a number of very advanced technological capacities in a number of areas." (Writing by Brian Homewood in Berne; Editing by Ed Osmond) )

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