Reda Maher

Brazil 360: Over-branded FIFA Fan Fest is best avoided

Reda Maher

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The day got off to an inauspicious start.

I had been sent to the FIFA Fan Fest on the Copacabana beach with a double brief: to see how Argentina’s fans reacted to victory or defeat against Belgium, and to report on what goes on at a FIFA Fan Fest, where ticketless fans and locals can watch World Cup matches in an environment reportedly closer to that of the stadium.

Not my sort of thing, to be honest. As a long-standing cynic of ‘organised fun’, I would rather be at the game, or at home with a select group of friends chewing the fat over the action. Or the office, for that matter. Whether it’s a big-screen showing of a sports event, an air-conditioned shopping mall, or a hyper-branded pop festival in Chelmsford, on a personal level, it just doesn’t tickle my fancy, and I’m not going to judge anyone if it tickles theirs.

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Indie-snobbery aside, I wasn’t expecting to have to bin one of my possessions on the way in.

“No ball!” the jobsworth security guard barked. “You can’t come in with the ball!”

I'd brought said ball on the off chance I may find one of the missing links in a quest (or rather dare) to get fans of all 32 World Cup teams to appear on camera performing a header.

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Now I’m not one of those Jeremy Clarkson-style militant opponents to health and safety, but I’m not quite sure of the danger a football poses at a football festival.

Maybe they thought my rudimentary skills would outshine those of Lionel Messi, distracting fans from FIFA’s product; perhaps they thought I’d kick it in the face of an over-celebrating Argentina fan, like an angry Championship defender miffed at being nutmegged by Adnan Januzaj in a League Cup match; could there have been a risk that I take advantage of the cheap Brahma and convert it into a makeshift beer bong? I mean they’re selling beer, for Budweiser's sake, which is surely more hazardous than a football. At a football festival.

The jobsworth in question wouldn’t even let me photograph him, or the ball nestling in a rubbish skip (they didn’t even have the decency to let me kick it back on to the Copacabana for re-use).

Either way, having queued for half an hour to get this far, I wasn’t going to let a 20 Real pigskin get in the way between me, tens of thousands of baying Latin Americans, and the truth.

Personal grudges aside, it wasn’t a great start for what was supposed to be an impartial view of the FIFA/CocaCola/Hyundai/Oi/Sony FAN FEST.

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Health and safety alert! This is much more hazardous than a football

And that’s what struck me first. The Branding.

Not just billboards or discrete logos on vendors’ uniforms, but giant, overblown, LOOK AT ME I’M A BRAAAAND installations, terrifying for small children and acid casualties.

Some of it is ugly:

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Some of it is utterly pointless:

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Who would risk kick-off to queue for a 3D representation of a trophy?

Some of it is hilariously ill-advised:

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Seemed like a good idea at the time

Some of it takes up space that would better utilised by toilet facilities, or a water station… anything but a car showroom, like anyone is going to consider spending £15,000 on a motor just because FIFA said so. Test drive anyone?

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Poor use of space aside, the toilets are a bone of contention. I don’t really see the point of chemical toilets without the chemical element. Who knows, maybe there was initially and they just gave up after three weeks of half-cut Argentines puking their Mate into the bowl? But the stench of ammonia was overpowering, and resulted in plenty of fans using empty beer cups to relieve themselves. Classy.

(I didn't take any photos of the bogs. Sorry. But you don't have to see that, you really don't).

During the match, things got better. Fans being fans, there were men dressed as the Pope, families somehow containing their baying offspring in a sea of human traffic, and gangs of good-natured but hairy-backed men, showing off their beer-guts and holiday tattoos in the burning sun.

But the atmosphere was strangely similar to that at a professional football stadium, only mobility is an option, meaning you can just walk on if there’s a 6”4’ Dutchman in a top-hat blowing a klaxon while asking people if they habla Espanol.

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There was little if any trouble, too, even though Argentina and Brazil bloody hate each other, with much of Belgium’s support coming from locals and the Maradona-ites chanting that Pele eats dirt, or something along those lines.

So far so good. But whenever you want to, you know, look around, move to another section of the park, it hits you.

BUY ME! LIKE ME! SHARE ME! JUST DON’T IGNORE ME, says this gallery sponsored by Brazilian communications network ‘Oi’, who hardly any of these people will see or hear of again.

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Okay, I get it. FIFA have to keep the sponsors happy. But there is a sinister side to it – in its attempts to foster exclusivity, they initially asked the state to ban Rio de Janeiro’s own, traditional, long-standing ‘fan-fest’, the unofficial ‘Alzirao’, where real colour and action brightens up the game as fans samba at half-time.

[THE ALZIRAO - WHERE CARIOCAS WATCH THE GAME]

Rio said ‘nao’, and Alzirao lives on. A testament to how organic, natural celebration always trumps that laid on by The Man, man.

Which leads me to my final bugbear – VIP lounges at Fan Fests.

Why on earth would you want, pay for, agree to sit on a glorified diving board to view a match on a big screen that 20,000 others are watching, for free? This isn’t VIP at a match, it’s VIP at a cheap representation of the match; like watching a DVD of homeless men fighting, while sat on an expensive sofa behind a disused carpet warehouse in Wood Green

Just watch it in a local restaurant with some decent food and wifi, so you don’t have to pay through your colon to tweet photos of you with that bloke in a Belgium wig, using your selfie-stick. You're in Rio, for Sepp's sake, hit a bar.

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But, as I said before, maybe that’s just me.

Ultimately the FIFA Fan Fest is harmless, organised, sanitised fun.

Apart from having my ball taken away from me, like a naughty eight-year-old, I had a decent few hours, spoke to some all right people, and didn’t get soaked in lukewarm Brahma. I wasn’t even accidentally groped by a drunk, confused Argentine, starved of female contact after spending the last 17 days sleeping in his brother’s minivan.

If you happen to be in Rio, I would recommend the Alzirao for a Brazil game, and a local café or bar if you’re ticketless for another match.

[HERE IS A PROPER FAN FEST. GO TO IT]

But the Fan Fest is safe, friendly(ish) and free, if can bear a few hours without basic sustenance. And, here, it’s on the Copacabana. Which is nice.

Eurosport’s Reda Maher is on location in Brazil for the duration of the 2014 World Cup - follow him on Twitter @Reda_Eurosport

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