Without even drinking from a World Cup, Brazil have a hangover
There are already rumblings of disconent from South America
Social protests swept Brazil during the Confederations Cup, a hint of what could come ahead of next year’s World Cup. Photograph: Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters
If all goes to plan, the World Cup final will take place in Rio de Janeiro on this day next year. The occasion more or less demands a Brazil/Spain final and something like a 4-3 score line.
Whether the Republic of Ireland make it to Brazil – and perhaps it might be as well to fill in that 33rd team application now – one thing is certain: the scare stories from Pele’s back yard aren’t going to go away any time soon.
When Brazil was announced as the host nation for the 2014 World Cup almost six years ago, it seemed to make perfect sense. The trip of a lifetime for football fans and an opportunity to see the Iguazu Falls and Christ the Redeemer and the hundreds of favelas of Rio (from the safety of an organised tour bus). It would make for fabulous TV too: you could just see Lawro or Gary Lineker strolling across the Copacabana beach, clad in Wayfarers and Man-from-del-Monte white, explaining why football is the religion in Brazil (apart from Catholicism), grains of golden sand falling through their finger tips as they ponder Brazil’s unique relationship with the beautiful game.
Now, the rumblings of discontent are growing loudly. This weeks’ scarcely credible news that a referee had been beheaded during a football game must have made Sepp Blatter drum his pudgy fingers on some pristine Fifa table. This is the kind of publicity that the good council of world football could do without as the countdown to the next extravaganza begins in earnest.
It didn’t matter that the atrocity was hardly an officially sanctioned game or that the referee had himself attacked a player with a knife following a row. For outraged Europeans, it was enough that it happened in was Brazil and was loosely football related; it was further evidence that the big country, despite its surging economic potential, was still a bit volatile, still a bit . . . South American.
It is always the same whenever either of the global sporting carnivals, the Olympics and the World Cup, opt to move off-reservation. The build-up to the Athens games suffered from almost a year of negative publicity. The Beijing Olympics led to a fleeting global fascination with Chinese human rights records and their willingness to live in smog. The 2010 World Cup in South Africa prompted an avalanche of stories about how Johannesburg was the most dangerous city in the galaxy. Now, Brazil is under the spotlight.
At least the Confederations Cup ended on a bright note, with the hosts winning what was an entertaining final. Still, it was impossible to ignore the staggeringly large social protests which swept through the country.
It was impossible too, for many Irish people, not to be a little envious at such collective energy. The ostensible cause of the mass Brazilian protests was a small price hike in bus fares. Five years of austerity, of scarcely believable banking skulduggery and stupidity, of Drummer and the boys cackling down a telephone and of two elected politicians making like Sid James and Barbara Windsor in Carry On up The Chambers and the national protest has amounted to nothing more challenging than the stoic and lonely after-Mass march which has, for the past three years, been a weekly occurrence in the village of Ballyhea, Co Cork. It is easy to sigh and watch the photos from Rio and Sao Paulo and to say, “Sure, it’s the hot weather.”