As the dust settled and the curtain fell over the 2014 World Cup, fireworks were unleashed at the Maracana and all over Rio de Janeiro.
Germany’s extra-time goal was also greeted with pyrotechnics over the city as revellers of all persuasions enjoyed the tense clash in bars, restaurants, family homes and large-scale showings in parks, squares and even on the scenic Sugar Loaf Mountain.
I was in Leblon during that match, trying to find local women to interview about an article which had made various assumptions about Brazil’s relationship culture. But I didn’t just speak to infuriated females – general conversations were had about the World Cup, about Brazil in general.
While it was ultimately a meaningless match, I was surprised that – despite wearing Brazil shirts and singing Pele songs – many of the crowd cheered the Dutch as their second and third goals went in; they had barely seemed bothered when Robin van Persie had netted an early penalty.
“Now it doesn’t matter anymore, we may as well hope Brazil lose badly,” one fan said. “It doesn’t make any sense, but the worse we play, the more people hate Dilma Rousseff. And we want her out.”
That anti-Rousseff feeling has been tangible at any game with a large Brazilian presence. “Hey Dilma, go f*** yourself” was the not especially melodic refrain that interspersed the Pele chants during and after matches, particularly that defeat, and the final. She even copped it first hand at the opening victory over Sao Paulo.
It is illogical, but national sentiment towards politicians can be driven by the success of a sports team, particularly when a significant chunk of the population never wanted to be the host nation.
Rousseff, a former Marxist guerrilla who now heads a moderate, social democratic coalition, has managed to achieve the remarkable feat of uniting opposition from the Left, the Right and the Centre.
As Brazil’s first female president, some of it may be rooted in misogyny, but much of the hatred – as you will all recognise – emanates from broken promises, or certainly vows that appear unfulfilled.
Brazil’s World Cup bid and legacy was built around private investment. The economic boom of the past 10 years has enriched many, and widened the middle class, but just under 11% of the population lives below the poverty line, which is a measly $2 per day. That is six times higher than neighbours Argentina. The GDP per capita of around $12,000 is double that of most Balkan nations, but the working poor still live in shanty towns, or favelas as we know them.
The grand plan was that private business investment would fund the World Cup, and that ordinary people would reap the rewards through employment and tourism. Hence why far-flung locations with little football culture – such as Manaus and Natal – were chosen as host cities.
But, while Brazil is a nation rich in resources (oil, minerals, agriculture, beaches, natural beauty), it is also rich in corruption.
In part a legacy of the fascistic military dictatorship of years gone by, and part a legacy of its original status as a colony built on slavery, tens of millions of Brazilians remain locked in a cycle of poverty.
This has improved in recent years, through government spending and a booming economy. But the trade unions, who helped vote Roussef in, found their demands for basic living wages ignored. Metro workers in cities like Sao Paulo – where average wages are comparable to some US cities – were living off less than $600 per month. Other government workers make little more.
Working class and lower middle class Brazilians sense they are being left behind by the government that they tasked with helping them. And the desperately poor remain desperately poor.
That government was forced to spend a good $13 billion to bail out the World Cup, and stadia and infrastructure looked set to fall short before kick-off as costs spiralled out of control. $13bn may not seem a huge sum for a nation with nearly 200 million, but every penny counts on the breadline, and the people simply do not trust the politicians, whose reputation for the wrong kind of graft is long-standing.
Indeed, much of the World Cup work, paid for by industry and the state, still isn’t complete – Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo inspired mirth with its temporary stand and window-cleaner lift to the disabled seats. There is no excuse - Sao Paulo is a rich, thriving city.
Most stadia had makeshift, temporary media centres, built from plasterboard and boasting toilet facilities comparable to those at the Glastonbury festival, in the 1990s. Internal security was as slack as external protection was intense. Metro networks were supposed to have been extended to link airports and cities. Again, this fell by the wayside – the only way to get from Sao Paulo and Rio’s main airports to the city is by creepingly slow buses, or taxis.
Fortunately for fans and professional visitors, the Brazilian sense of hospitality – and an uncanny knack of finding a way to muddle through – meant, for most, it was a manageable experience.
Locals have been extremely helpful, pouring scorn on the nation’s image as a run-down bloodbath of crack dealers and murderers. Where problems existed, solutions were found. People have adapted.
An example includes the legion of ticket touts operating outside stadia for the early matches; within a week, police started operating exclusion zones around grounds, barring ticketless fans or suspected touts from entering the area. Eventually, the net closed completely. More on that later.
Another example was the chaos at the opening game in Sao Paulo, where volunteers and staff had no idea where to point spectators trying to get to the airport in time for a late flight; by the next game, informed English-speakers were able to help more effectively.
I wasn’t able to go to every host city, spending half of the World Cup in Rio de Janeiro, making several trips to Sao Paulo, and attending matches in Manaus, Natal, Belo Horizonte and Porto Alegre.
Local views on the tournament varied immensely.
Rio’s carnival culture meant locals were swept up in the fun, partying with visitors, setting up barbeques and beatboxes in the street, serving drinks from their front yards. The yellow Brazil shirt was ubiquitous, even after their exit, and music played long through the night.
But Sao Paulo is not necessarily a tourist spot, seeing itself as a serious, business centre. People went about their work as if the World Cup was a distraction – particularly for the metro workers, underpaid and unheard, who showed little interest in those pesky fans: contrast with Rio, where the streets are literally paved with gold (well, golden floor-signs pointing to the Maracana, from beach to street to station to platform). Eventually Sao Paulo caught up, signposting the correct trains, but it took its time.
Porto Alegre and Belo Horizonte, meanwhile, are relatively affluent social and business hubs, combining European-style order with a more Latin, relaxed culture. Locals seemed happy to welcome the masses of tourists, with airports and bus stations user friendly and populated by assistants pointing everyone in the right direction. My laptop even broke down in Porto Alegre, and it was fixed in 20 minutes at a local mall; contrast with getting a SIM card in Rio, which took half a day, and only worked half the time.
It is estimated that the 2010 World Cup resulted in a 20% boost to tourism in South Africa, which many foreigners previously feared visiting on account of its high crime rate. Brazil, a more culturally relaxed environment, and without the obvious racial divide (although one does subliminally exist), surely has more to gain, particularly from the hundreds of thousands of US visitors who enjoyed heading south for the summer.
One of the locations that struck me as having most to benefit from World Cup tourism was Manaus. The gateway to the Amazon, it has an indigenous majority population, a high violent crime rate, and relies on rubber and motorcycle industries. It seems like a different continent to Sao Paulo. A certain type of tourist frequents these far flung parts, the adventurer or backpacker. But – with the help of David Beckham’s filmed visit to the jungle – fans flocked to the city, marvelled at its theatre, sailed down the Amazon, trekked into the jungle, lost their minds on malaria tablets, and bloody loved it.
Local boat people set up floating hostels, with Amazonians flocking from riverside villages – sometimes weeks away by boat – to earn a living from this sudden and new influx of gringos. For the first time in their lives, they were meeting foreigners who were keen to spend real money. Suddenly, Manaus became the pride of the Amazon. The locals expect tourists to return.
Work needs to be done, though. Fans told me of the beautiful beaches in Recife, but of terrifying, crime-ridden streets just a few metres off the seafront. There were not enough hotels or hostels in Manaus, leading some fans to sleep on the beach. The big cities have decent public transport systems, but too much of Brazil is reliant on automobile transport, which favours neither tourists nor the poor.
And, of course, there remain deep-seated social problems that Brazil has to overcome.
Violent, drug-related gun-crime is one of the prime social ills of Brazil and other Latin American countries with a large gap between rich and poor. During the World Cup, host cities have been patrolled by various strands of Brazil’s complex law enforcement agencies. Military police, civil guards, city police, state patrols, local security services, both public and private, all operated in tandem, at stadia, near hotels, on public transport, in social hubs. You’d think it was a police state.
Is that level of security manageable after the World Cup? Most Brazilians think it unlikely. And reports of police brutality in an attempt to ‘pacify’ areas before the finals will not go unforgotten. There is a genuine fear that things could return to the bad old days soon.
Many Brazilians I spoke to held other, long-standing concerns: education, transport, wages, cost of living and healthcare. Particularly healthcare. This was raised repeatedly by locals, who complain of a lack of public hospitals, and of existing health facilities being overcrowded. An obesity epidemic – a function of the economic boom – is looming, with half the country now overweight, and infant mortality rates remain relatively high, at 13 per 100,000 live births, double that of former Yugoslav nations Serbia and Macedonia, whose GDP per capita are half that of Brazil. Yet Brazil spends around 9% of its GDP on healthcare, comparable to the United Kingdom. Where does the money go?
Brazilians enjoyed the World Cup and will display pride that – in spite of everything – this developing, juggernaut of a nation managed to get everything through it, mostly unscathed. But a bitter taste lingers in the mouth. The hand of FIFA has touched everything, but it has only left pawprints.
Refusing to pay tax – why should it, as a ‘charity’ – this opaque, Swiss cabal is loathed by many Brazilians. Sepp Blatter was greeted with a chorus of boos at the final.
In Belo Horizonte, before Brazil’s ill-fated clash with Germany, I met a middle-aged woman named Cynthia from Rio de Janeiro who said caterers that usually worked at stadia were forced out so FIFA could sell Coca Cola and hot dogs.
“Fine if they must sell their sponsors’ products, but why not let the locals continue their business? Fans should be able to try Pao e Queijo and other Brazilian food at the games. Those burgers are disgusting.”
It’s not just the fans who were fleeced – as early as 9am in the mornings, media workers had their food and water confiscated on entry to the working area, forced to purchase overpriced slop from understaffed canteens where a half-hour queue for a bottle of water would be considered standard. No-one was immune from the money-grabbers of Zurich.
But FIFA is no longer immune from itself. One global, football legacy of this World Cup was that the entrenched, protected network of ticket touting was blown wide open – and the roads led to the very top of football’s governing body.
Ray Whelan, of FIFA-affiliated hospitality company MATCH, is arrested on suspicion of illegal ticket racketeering before later fleeing police
Long suspected of involvement in racketeering, the infamous extended ‘global football family’ has been tied to organisations and gangsters dealing in black market tickets. With paltry numbers allocated to registered travelling fans, the free-for-all allowed shady dealers to hoard seats, mask them as ‘corporate hospitality’ packages, and fleece the fans who should have been sold them at face value in the first place.
You didn’t need to look far to find these sorts – beachfronts, hotel lobbies, street corners and, according to the Brazilian police, mixing with the bigwigs in FIFA’s own private areas. And FIFA itself has been accused of ripping some fans off by refusing to replace stolen tickets, then re-selling them to the public.
Credit must be given to Brazil, a nation which has managed to go further than anyone before. That will probably go down to the generally high level of security, but someone, somewhere, has had their eyes open.
This ability to ‘take care of business’ will not go unnoticed. Despite being poorer, more chaotic and less accustomed to such events as more developed nations, Brazil has got through this with its collective head held high and – crucially – wanting more, demanding better.
There is another opportunity to showcase this skill, with the Olympics coming to Rio in two years. While that will be easier to control in terms of locality, a new set of challenges will be introduced: an older, wealthier and more family-oriented visitor, who may require greater protection than a gang of 250 Argentines chanting ‘Maradona mas grande que Pele’. Ultimately, most lads here can look after themselves.
And what else? I probably don't need to remind you of the football, as - due to travelling and chasing stories - you may indeed have watched more games than I did (14, by the end). But, as with all good World Cups, the fans made for one hell of a party. Brazilians did what Brazilians do, the Chileans painted the town red (when they weren't bum-rushing the Maracana), the Argentines wound everyone up then got their comeuppance, the Russians were amusingly crazed, and the English surprisingly convivial. There were even loads of Israelis, who travelled en masse despite not qualifying. Many probably wish they could stay a little longer.
But in the meantime, the gap between rich and poor must be narrowed, services must improve, corruption must be fought. Brazil has done itself proud at a World Cup which will mercifully be remembered for much more than Neymar not dying and Luis Suarez biting someone, but inequalities and corruption continue to be highlighted, and the rest of the world is catching up in awareness.
Brazilians want more, deserve more. And, as the Maracana reminded Dilma Rousseff on Sunday night, they will not let the politicians forget about it.
- Sports & Recreation
- Sao Paulo
- Dilma Roussef