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.”
In a recent opinion piece in the Guardian, the former star Romario, now a congressman for Brazil’s Socialist Party, outlined why his enthusiasm for the 2014 World Cup has dimmed. It came down to Fifa’s stringent demands for the correct infrastructure and the cost – the most expensive World Cup bill ever at $11billion and rising – which could be better spent on social services.
“There have been reports of people dying while on hospital waiting lists,” he wrote in an outraged report which could easily fit the trade description act of Ireland Inc.
That Fifa will roll into town next summer, stay in the best hotels, travel behind smoked glass windows to the stadiums, eat well and then wave goodbye with a $4billion tax-free profit is the part that Romario finds most galling.
The protests suggest that he is not alone. Ronaldo, ever associated with Brazil’s 2002 triumph, recently appeared on television to give his thoughts about the turmoil which had enveloped the cities. “Speaking to the people on the street, I feel they are not against the World Cup. They are against corruption, the division of wealth, the way public health is managed and the education system.”
As he observed all of this kind of Bolshie-talk, the chances are that Sepp had one pressing if distinctly un-bureaucratic thought: what if the Brazilians don’t get their s**t together?
Series of airports
Right now, things are not looking good. Fifa must be wishing they had never sanctioned the plan for12 hosts cities spread across the vast country, which suggests that for a lot of fans and teams, the tournament will be reduced to a series of airports. Also, Lawro and the MOTD boys better bring their winter jackets for those dreamy beach strolls: July is the coolest month in Brazil. And violence within Brazilian football is a genuine problem, characterised by the murderous antics of the Torcidas organizadas.
On top of that is the general feeling among Brazilians that they are being screwed. They have been here before, after all. When they hosted the tournament in 1950, it also cost a pretty penny but there were assurances that the event would usher the country into the first world and economic prosperity. Instead, they were left with the trauma of watching their team lose the final game 2-1 to Uruguay, a result which crushed the country’s burgeoning self-confidence.
Over six decades later, everyone knows that hosting the World Cup is a financially dubious enterprise. The pay-off is that the citizens will feel deliriously happy and patriotic and proud for a month.
At least, that is the hope. Few are tipping the national team – which lagged at 22 on the Fifa rankings as recently as June – to win the Jules Rimet trophy on home soil. Ticket prices are high and matched by disillusionment. If the Brazilian team fails to perform in its group stages, it is easy to imagine the discontent becoming general.
For Fifa, the gamble is that the people won’t protest for the duration of the World Cup because they will be too busy watching the football. This day next year there will be one game left to play, after which the World Cup will amount to nothing more than confetti on the floor of the Maracana stadium and thousands of empty hotel bedrooms to be made up.
Then the Brazilians can start worrying about the 2016 Olympics.