Cup of dreams or poisoned chalice?
The final whistle at tomorrow’s Euro 2012 final will begin the countdown to the 2014 World Cup, in Brazil. Critics say that the tournament will suck wealth from the country at the expense of efforts to reduce poverty
THOUGH THEY ARE playing the same game, the semi-final of the Amazonas state soccer championship is a world away from the glamour of Euro 2012. Most of the players lining up in Sesi stadium, in the jungle city of Manaus, for the match between Iranduba and São Raimundo are children from the Amazon rainforest who at best can dream of journeyman careers toiling in the poorly paid lower tiers of Brazilian soccer.
Their fans are passionate, especially those in green cheering for Iranduba, who advance to the state final courtesy of a 3-1 win.
Followers of São Raimundo, who greeted their team’s entrance with fireworks, start to drift away after the third goal goes in. A small knot of ultras, or extreme fans, belonging to the Furacão Azul – Blue Hurricane – group stay behind to shout abuse at dejected players.
When the referee finally blows full time it is near midnight, after which the remains of the crowd drift off into the hot tropical night. The stadium announcer reports the number of paying spectators as 593.
When the final whistle sounds at tomorrow’s Euro final, the countdown to the 2014 World Cup gets under way in earnest. Fans can start to look forward to soccer’s next big jamboree, which will be held in Brazil, home of o jogo bonito – the beautiful game of the five-time world champions.
Despite Amazonas’s weak local championship, Fifa has selected Manaus, the state capital, as one of 12 venues for the 2014 tournament. To stage three group games and a second-round match, the state government is pouring €200 million of public money into a new 44,000-seat stadium.
But in the far smaller Sesi stadium, local fans are sceptical about the benefits the World Cup will bring to their local game. Their clubs are broke, players’ salaries often go unpaid and crowds are tiny.
After Manaus’s four World Cup matches are over, none of them has any idea what will become of the new Arena Amazônia.
“This World Cup won’t do anything for football in Amazonas,” says João Paulo Brasil, a Furacão Azul leader. “They are throwing money away on a white-elephant stadium, but it will not do anything to help the game here, which is in terrible shape. It will be a copa for tourists; I think most local fans are indifferent.”
Though it pains a soccer man to say so, Amarildo Silva also believes it would have been better if Fifa had never come to Manaus and the state government had instead invested a small portion of what is being spent on the new stadium on reforming the game in Amazonas. “Clubs here do not have €40 to pay for a ref in a youth game. They only bring a few hundred fans to big games, so how can you expect them to play in a stadium for 44,000?” says the local soccer commentator and blogger. “The World Cup in Manaus will not be ‘for the good of the game’, like Fifa claims. Even worse, as a taxpayer, part of the debt to build the arena will be mine, and it is obvious that after the World Cup it will not be used for football. How many decades will we be paying for this?”
The Amazonas state government is dismissive of concerns that the arena will turn into a white elephant after the tournament is over. “It will not just be a football stadium but a multiuse venue that will hold conferences, shows and trade fairs,” says Alessandra Campelo da Silva, secretary of sport for Amazonas state.