Brazil’s broken promises are almost enough to kill your World Cup buzz

Letter from São Paulo: Brazil should enjoy the tournament it has paid such an extravagant price for

Brazilian Alvaro Diniz plays with a football in a street adorned with World Cup themed designs in São Paulo, Brazil, this week. The World Cup will begin on Thursday. Photograph Diego Azubel/EPA

Brazilian Alvaro Diniz plays with a football in a street adorned with World Cup themed designs in São Paulo, Brazil, this week. The World Cup will begin on Thursday. Photograph Diego Azubel/EPA


As a football fan, covering the build-up to a World Cup in Brazil can leave you feeling like a self-hating killjoy.

I love the tournament and have done ever since 1982, the first edition I properly remember. In a very indirect but real sense Sócrates, Zico and company from the Brazil team that summer in Spain are partially responsible for my ending up here.

It was the moment when an idea of the country first entered my mental landscape, and thanks to how they played and lost, and the affection every adult had for the team, and even just those wonderfully short names, it did so as somewhere hugely romantic.

So while it has been professionally fascinating observing the shenanigans of Brazil’s preparations for the tournament, as a football fan it has been depressing to report on a major case of bad vibes surrounding this much loved global festival.

Brazil’s government is billing this as the Cup of Cups. Cup of Lies would be more like it. Take your pick, starting, say, with the promise that private investment would finance the new generation of stadiums required to host the event. That turned out to be a big whopper, as predicted as far back as 2006 by the country’s leading sports daily Lance!

Broken promise

What about the Transparency Cup? That has ended up another broken promise. We might know one day why costs ballooned over the years but given how Brazil’s weak anti-corruption bodies operate this could be in the dim and distant future.

The possibility of eventual prosecutions is slim and any will then be contested by the guilty parties for years if not decades in the courts.

Such concerns are of course minor when you consider people likely died because of incompetence – the number of workers killed building overdue stadiums spiked as deadlines loomed and construction companies rushed to finish what organisers had spent years dawdling over.

As my friend Ronnie back in Dublin said after discussing much of this with him last week, it is enough to kill your World Cup buzz.

Ronnie and I talk a lot of football before each World Cup. We went to France together in 1998 and were there for that Bergkamp goal in Marseille, drowning in a sea of orange as it went in.

He was also in Japan for Ireland’s campaign in 2002 and – most impressively in my eyes – was witness to one of football’s defining games. Back in 1982 while I was sitting at home in Dublin watching Brazil somehow go down to Italy on the telly, Ronnie was in tears there in the Sarrià stadium with his dad, surrounded by dejected Brazilians in their yellow jerseys.

Back then football for two 10-year-olds was pure romance. Now we are both a good bit more cynical. Perhaps it is age. Perhaps it is supporting Chelsea and Spurs, each in their own way now the epitome of flash, entitled New Football money (though admittedly his team has more to show for it than mine). In part it is just reading about the activities of those who use their positions of power to abuse the people’s game.

And yet we both admit that even so we are getting excited now that kick-off is close. Maybe it is a month-long break from reality, but what a break. The World Cup is a rare unifying global moment, when the planet tunes in to follow the drama of 32 essentially scratch teams whittled down to one winner over the course of a month, with all the different nationalities showing up to support their tribe in peace.

Fifa’s megalomania

Brazilians have surprised themselves and the world by demonstrating their anger at the way Fifa’s greed and megalomania has distorted the World Cup.

Whether Fifa takes note or just retreats further into the embrace of dictatorships such as Russia and Qatar remains to be seen.

But having done their bit I think Brazilians have now earned the right to enjoy the tournament they have paid so extravagantly for.

Critics of the political class that played along with Fifa will have a chance to express their displeasure at the ballot box in October. Reforming Fifa itself will be harder, it being a Swiss “charity” that has proved remarkably immune to outside pressure. Hopefully change will come. If not, the game eventually risks devouring itself.

But by protesting the absurdity of what the World Cup has become, Brazilians have done all football fans a service. Having done so, now they can enjoy what is still great about the tournament – the football itself.

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