The real gain of hosting a World Cup

Numbers don’t lie, but they don’t tell the whole picture.

That is particularly true when it comes to Brazil, one of the world’s most unfair countries. Numbers here are so complicated that even when economic growth slowed there was a rise in job creation. No analysts expected that. Perhaps that is because our experts read too many bank reports and have too little contact with the deep Brazil. Raw figures don’t say everything here.

This good article written by Simon Kuper, one of the few journalists that understand about figures AND sporting events, has many good points. I couldn’t agree more with his perception of the Brasilia stadium. I worked not far from that place for almost two years and I used to call it “The Monumental Waste”. It was then that I really noted how political that and other choices were.

What he and other analysts miss, though, is how different Brazil is from South Africa and how transformative the World Cup can be in a real footballing nation.  That doesn’t appear in the figures — at least for now. After all, how do you measure people leaving their homes to protest for a better country for the first time in decades? How can one grasp Brazil’s finally looking in the mirror?

Still, there are some economic reasons that extrapolate that month of football extravaganza for which countries overstate their chances of bringing visitors (let’s not forget that Brazil isn’t even among the top 20 most visited nations).

If Kuper had visited Itaquera, where the São Paulo arena is laid, he wouldn’t see the emptiness he saw around the Brasilia arena. Itaquerans have new pride — they were forgotten not long ago. The stadium has brought some infrastructure and new businesses. How much wealth can be created by promoting inclusion in the biggest city of the Southern Hemisphere? Isn’t that revenue too?

Now Itaquera is a hub. If more East End people work in Itaquera, traffic is less chaotic for everyone. If services improve there, as a World Cup legacy, wealth will spread into that region in the long run. How much money can São Paulo save by improving traffic for all and most importantly for those have to ride two hours in a bus to work downtown? Recife is trying the same model.

By the way, that is the format that worked well in London’s Stratford, where the Olympic Park lies. I saw it in 2010 and the difference in 2012 was remarkable.

That stadium in Itaquera, unlike in any other of South Africa, will host a team every weekend. That is also the case in Porto Alegre, Curitiba, Rio, Belo Horizonte, Salvador, Recife and Fortaleza. One can always argue these last were renovated by much more than they should — I will agree. But to criticize misdeeds is different from believing the World Cup is a bad deal.

It is what you make of it.

Although I believe Brasilia, Cuiabá, Manaus and Natal shouldn’t be in the World Cup, it is undeniable there is more attention now to what happens there. They have been for long big drains for taxpayer’s money. Now their politicians are scrutinized, the criticism has made their citizens more demanding (they protested in June too) and elections in October might bring change.

White elephants are terrible legacies. But how do you put a price tag on the new accountability in those cities?

Football and the World Cup are such a big thing for Brazilians that people in the wealthy South and Southeast at last pay some attention to what happens in the other regions. People in the rich neighborhoods of São Paulo, perhaps for the first time, spare a thought on those who live in the poor outskirts. And that is because the tournament will kick off far from their elite cluster.

Twenty years of reasonable economic improvement didn’t do that trick of making the Brazilian elite care about the rest. Football made them care a little. I say that as a politics reporter who has been to Itaqueras all over Brazil for the last 10 years, a sports fan myself and as a Brazilian who comes from a region as impoverished as that now famous neighborhood in São Paulo’s East End.

As June 12th approaches, in a very bare and not always encouraging fashion, Brazilians are discussing politics. It isn’t because of the presidential elections. It is because of the World Cup. Our public square got bigger. Social media surely helps, but if it weren’t for football’s creme de la creme people would just carry on in the very self-absorbed pattern we refined for decades.

As everyone knows, Brazilians were never famous for being political.

In 2010, the tournament took place in a country where football is not part of the social tissue. South Africa had even bigger grievances to address; evident racial hatred, AIDS, curfews… Building stadia there made even less sense. They hosted the World Cup as an experience. No surprise they were disappointed in the end. But they also invested less than they planned.

In Brazil, hosting the World Cup is seen as a duty by many. No one in here thinks of England as the home of the sport. Our writers talk about our stray dog syndrome starting in the defeat to Uruguay in the 1950 tournament. Our sociologists talk about the 1958 victory as a landmark for national identity. Even some economists count the 1994 title as as sign of our rebirth. 

That is a sense South Africa doesn’t have (I’d probably trade a Brazilian Nelson Mandela for the less exciting World Cup victories, though). Expenses are surely important and keeping a realistic perception of profits to come is key to the success of any event. But a society is more than budgets and projections.

That new awareness is a gain that only hosts of big sporting events can enjoy. Real costs very often don’t count the real changes.  

About Mauricio Savarese

I am a Brazilian journalist who got tired of reporting only in Portuguese. Politics and football, these are my turfs. Twitter: @msavarese. Email: savarese.mauricio@gmail.com

Posted on 16/01/2014, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Great post, completely agree that we can’t put a price on the increased focus Brazil is receiving. I only hope this pressure becomes too much for some of the older political thaws in our system and makes way for younger more intelligent politicians.

  2. True the price of reaching a tipping point for Brazilian society would be uncountable.

  1. Pingback: Why Brazil didn’t explode in the World Cup in 10 posts | A Brazilian Operating in This Area

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