According to the FIFA blurb, Brazil has welcomed the World Cup with arms open as wide as those of Cristo Redentor sitting atop of Sugar Loaf, and that’s probably true to some extent. When this particular carnival has packed up its tent and moved on though, what will be left for the hosts of the party?
I really wanted to call this article ‘Let Them Eat Football’ but a quick zip around the internet shows that the idea has been done to death already – curses – so I opted for ‘Down and out in Rio and Brasilia.’ After the defeat to Germany, Brazil was certainly down and most assuredly out, but it’s the aftermath of the tournament, rather than that match that I’m talking about here.
Whilst the host nation kept alive the dream of a sixth World Cup triumph, the carnival could go on, but with the shuddering humiliation of the 7-1 defeat to Germany, Brazil was forced to watch the rest of the party going on in its own house without them, noses pressed against the windows; on the outside looking in, awaiting the arrival of the bill. Then, on Sunday, Germany whisked away the belle of the ball – well, the belle of football anyway – and all that’s left now for Brazil is to wake up with a hangover, tidy up and count the cost.
Before the tournament started, I read an article describing a banner that fronted an art-installation at the centre of the Copacabana. It read “The World Cup in a country of misery, financed by public money, is a moral problem.” It’s difficult to argue with that. The tournament has been estimated to have cost the country some £7billion. An awful lot of money by anyone’s calculations, but in a country with crumbling infrastructure, underfunded public services and people living in the squalor of favelas, it assumes obscene dimensions. And yet… And yet…
The same article that described that banner also related a conversation with a “down at heel Brazilian man.” He’s reported as saying “We don’t have the money you know. But, you know, what if we win?” It may sound like the logic of the alehouse, but I wonder how different that mind-set is to the thought process of the Brazilian government that decided to host the tournament?
Seven years ago, when the country secured the rights for the tournament, the president at the time, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said it would be used as a vehicle for the modernisation of the country and to escape the underdevelopment that had benighted so many of its citizens. One wonders how many people at the time thought that sounded the sort of hollow promise that it appears today. Hosting a World Cup and having a modernised country? Who wouldn’t applaud that!
Speaking to Reuters, Gil Castello Branco of Contas Abertas, a private group monitoring public spending is quoted however as stating that “The jump to modernity never happened, and the stadiums are a herd of white elephants.” Why so? Well, for example, four of the cities with new stadiums are home to clubs that play in the third-tier of Brazilian club football. The chances of selling out stadiums of the size constructed are about as likely as a country making a profit from hosting the tournament. Such monumental spending on what will doubtless end up being monuments to folly, fuelled the many protests that took place before the anaesthesia of the football getting under way, temporarily diverted public attention.
When the tournament has packed up and left however, expect a return to people demanding the heads of politicians who decided to spend such scarce resources on stadiums, rather than hospitals, schools and public transport. Castello Branco again “Our biggest disappointment is urban mobility. Brazil’s big cities are chaotic. We hoped things would improve with the work done for the World Cup. This has not happened and we don’t know when these works will be finished.”
Public transport is the only method available to most working-class Brazilians, and a fare hike in this public necessity, fired a round of protests last year. Overwhelmingly, things have got no better, and with the need to pay off the costs lavished on the tournament fares and taxes are bound to rise again. The World Cup has been estimated as costing as much as 61% of the government’s education budget and 30% on all funding for healthcare. It’s a ‘blue touch-paper’ situation for a government that has been playing with fire.
President Dilma Rousseff faces re-election in October. It will be an uphill fight. If the idea was that she could ride to victory on a wave of euphoria as Brazil won the tournament and everyone was happy, that prospect has been unceremoniously torn away. Not to worry though the Brazil Olympics are just around the corner.
(This All Blue Daze article was originally produced for the ‘offsiderulepodcast’ website).