Rio Olympics present golden opportunity to banish World Cup humiliation
Brazil will consider the 2016 event as a chance to restore national pride after this failure
Fans at the FIFA Fan Fest in Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro. Photograph: Abedin Taherkenareh/EPA
My suspicion is the only German not smiling after Brazil went belly up in Belo Horizonte was Thomas Bach. Less than one year into his presidency of the International Olympic Committee and Bach now finds himself fronting an escalating battle against time, apathy, ticket touts and even more enormously expensive white elephants.
No one said it would be easy. No country has ever hosted the World Cup and the Olympics in succession, and for good reason. They don’t wait four years between one World Cup and the next, and likewise the Olympics, just so everyone involved can gather their collective breath: in some cases four years is not nearly long enough. For Brazil, or at least Rio, the turnaround is now just over two years. Or 755 days, to be exact.
The people who run these shows like to point out an important difference between the World Cup and the Olympics: the World Cup is awarded to a country, and the Olympics are awarded to a city. Although in financial terms there is no difference at all. Brazil is already rounding up the cost of hosting the World Cup and the 2016 Rio Olympics into one neat bundle: €18 billion and counting. That’s because whether it’s a country or a city, once the costs start accelerating the government, and the people, are left to pay.
For Brazil the exact impact of their team’s 7-1 defeat to Germany on Tuesday night is still unclear. Although BBC’s Newsnight seemed pretty clear about it in the immediate aftermath, going live to Rio where their man on the ground spoke of a “deep, elongated post
mortem” and a feeling that “the nation has died”.
Brazilians tend to remember defeat more than victory, especially their last World Cup defeat at home to Uruguay in the 1950 final. Their goalkeeper Moacir Barbosa was never allowed to forget. “The maximum punishment in Brazil is 30 years imprisonment,” said Barbosa, shortly before his death in 2000. “But I have been paying, for something I’m not even responsible, for 50 years.”
There are those who believe the Brazilian team had it coming and that the entire tournament has been built on secrets and lies. Once the cost-cutting became absolutely necessary, most of the so-called legacy projects – particularly public transport – were unceremoniously abandoned. Stadium costs went three times over budget, even with the realisation that several of them were white elephants in the making. Of course all that would be forgotten once Brazil were crowned World Cup champions before Germany revealed the truth behind that.
There have been other truths revealed also, like stories of Fifa representatives sipping on their caipirinhas and laughing out loud at quaint little restaurants in Fortaleza, just around the corner from entire families sleeping on concrete steps. Or that of Fifa’s official hospitality company selling match tickets to black market sources.
No one is denying this World Cup will be remembered as one of the most entertaining of our time, sporting or otherwise. Brazil delivered on most counts and not a single positive doping test either! That’s what Bach is hoping will help arm him against any apathy as the country now slowly but surely turns its attention to Rio 2016.
There’s no denying either the feel good factor when it all kicked off, in São Paulo, back on June 12th. Not since Vangelis played the opening strains of Chariots of Fire on a hot summer night in Athens, 10 years earlier, did it feel more like a major sporting event was coming home.
The obvious hope now is that Brazil
will not be left as badly scarred after staging the World Cup for the second time as Athens was after staging the Olympics again, in 2004. Indeed there are those who believe not just Athens but the all of Greece may never recover. If you saw the abandoned state of their Olympic venues now you would agree, and even if staging those Games in 2004, 108 years after the original version, wasn’t the sole reason for their eventual national bankruptcy, it certainly didn’t help.
Bach will get a better idea of the apathy he will confront after flying into Rio this week to attend tomorrow’s World Cup final. News of Brazil’s 7-1 defeat came just as Bach was concluding the IOC’s three-day executive board meeting in Lausanne, where items for discussion included Rio’s already worrying delay in completing key Olympic projects for 2016. Work at Deodoro Park, Rio’s second largest venue site, only began last week – two years behind schedule – and the clean-up at Guananbara Bay definitely won’t be completed on time, which means the Olympic sailors will be competing in water where 70 per cent of sewage is untreated.
Still, most Olympics unfold against a backdrop such as this. If Brazil had won the World Cup that success might have sustained them long past 2016. Instead, they will not want to be left remembering two defeats on their own stage. And my suspicion is the Rio Olympics will be remembered as a home win.