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World Cup one year on: missing those great days despite missed opportunities

Brazilians went mad when a FIFA executive admitted Russia and Qatar could lose rights to host the next World Cups if there is proof they corrupted the process. No, it wasn’t because of a potential vote buying scandal. “Send it back to us,” “We are ready to do it again,” and “Give it back so we can lose to Germany once more” were some of the most common reactions in social media. Who would have thought of hearing that one year ago, in the middle of the global wave of defeatism and the blame-Brazil-for-the-worst-World-Cup-ever discourse?

(To be honest, I did think everyone would love it. It is in many posts in the archives.)

The only Brazil World Cup disaster deserving of that name

As it is now clear, most people here keep their criticism about the immediate costs of the tournament. Many of the projects that were delayed now seem to be forever delayed, which shows a disgraceful lack of commitment from authorities to their countrymen. Still, Brazilians have little doubt about the success of the World Cup organization. Not only none of the pre-World Cup horror stories were confirmed, but also foreigners enjoyed being here. As a German colleague told me after the final, “Brazil is great, it feels more normal than the expected.”

It is only fair that one year on most of the stories about World Cup legacy will involve overpriced stadia that are still empty, like Brasilia’s and Manaus’. Those two, among others, came about because of political reasons. Their cost is highly suspicious and I have a hunch they will somehow appear in the ongoing FIFA scandal snowball. The FIFA standard arenas that make sense, including those in big capitals like Rio and Belo Horizonte, are now so mismanaged that they are often as unoccupied as the ones where professional football is a fantasy.

But one year ago the problems that the media cared about were in the organization. There were stories of arenas collapsing during the tournament, dengue fever outbreaks, fans and teams being stranded in unfinished airports, a security crisis with unpredictable results, protests that would disrupt roads, subways and every possible means of transportation, riots after Brazil was hammered by Germany… The list could go on and on. All the catastrophic predictions were wrong. They were wrong because they were based on a provincial mindset.

One of those provincial traits that persist is the bashing of the World Cup for the fact it hasn’t brought immediate economic development to Brazil. Whoever buys that argument fails to understand that big sporting events are not meant for that — they are a marketing opportunity for the country and a good means to speed up construction that would have taken so much longer to build. In Brazil’s case, for the sake of argument, it would have taken even longer than it did. A very clear example of that are the improvements for São Paulo’s arena, which sits in a degraded region. Or in Salvador’s subway system.

Another mistake is to believe that Brazil spent so much in the World Cup that it made investments in healthcare and education impossible. The price tag I consider inexcusable is the US$ 5 billion on stadia. That should never have been spent. But Brazil spends US$ 50 billion every year on healthcare. Every year. The country invests US$ 30 billion on education. Is that enough? Maybe it isn’t. But it surely isn’t the construction or renovation of stadia for once in decades that stopped presidents Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff from investing elsewhere.

By the way, Lula and Rousseff are also partly responsible for the tone of the pre-World Cup debate in Brazil. After Brazilians took to the streets in June 2013, the tournament wasn’t even a big issue. But in the months that followed the criticism mounted, and it sounded if only federal government were investing in the tournament. With an election coming in 2014, a big chunk of the opposition and the media decided to turn against the event, as if it was bound for failure. That is also why some collegues said I was pushing for the pro-government simply because I insisted the World Cup wouldn’t be a disaster. It was as if being critical meant being excessively negative.

Well, they were wrong in that too.

World Cups are a difficult event to manage, and it sure wasn’t simple for Brazil. What was indeed simple was to expect disaster without considering how much there is behind these big sporting events. Brazil made a lot of mistakes, but none of them were decisive for the success of the organization of the tournament. That is just a fact. And it is a fact that many will now take into consideration when they think of Rio Olympics preparations. For Brazil to be seen as a country that can be a bigger touristic destination, the World Cup was a great test. Not all is about price tags.

One year on, Brazilians still hear friends from abroad say “I wish I was there.” Others say “it was one of the finest experiences I ever had.” The best of hearing those words is to know that they are true. By the way FIFA, let us know if you open the slots for 2018 and 2022. We’d love to have them both if you will (no bribes, though).


Brazil 2014 in review: what I got wrong and why

Almost one year ago I made my 14 predictions for Brazil in 2014. Most of them were spot on: no free trade agreement with the European Union, economic growth was unimpressive, a lot of anger came out after the 50th anniversary of the coup, millions wept for the 20 years since driver Ayrton Senna died, Brazil went to the World Cup semifinals (I predicted that, not the 7-1 thrashing), football’s extravaganza was an organizational success and YES, Brazil is more international than ever. But there are other expectations that either proved to be misguided or went just half the way to completion. Here are they:

1 – “Jobs and income will still be fine.” Those two are not terrible, but they were far from fine in 2014. There was a technical recession that clearly hit consumer and business confidence. The hit on jobs wasn’t gigantic, but it was only because many youngsters chose to stay longer in school or, in the worse case scenario, do absolutely nothing. Income was affected by inflation. That was one of the reasons why the presidential race was so close.

2 – “Brazilian club football will be in a gigantic crisis.” Not even the 7-1 hammering against Germany shook the Brazilian FA, who also runs Brazil’s national league. Sports courts were more prominent than ever. The Judiciary has found evidence of manipulation in the 2013 Brazilian championship, let’s see how that goes. In 2014, unfortunately there was no crisis off the pitch.

3 – “There will be protests, but nothing like June 2013.” Anti-World Cup protests were a massive flop. Even smaller than I expected. But Brazil’s conservative wave has produced big protests after the tournament ended. Some had more than 5,000 people, which is more than anyone expected. Of course part of that is thanks to the presidential election and a crazy claim for impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff. But these movements are not small and I didn’t see that coming.

4 – “Once the World Cup is over, Brazilians will be mad about the wasted opportunities.” It wasn’t even a topic after the World Cup ended. Not even opposition presidential candidates brought it up. When I made this prediction, I was listening too much to critics that believe Brazil is a poor country that couldn’t afford stadia. That is not the case: Brazil is unjust and the matter with the venues was of priority, not of being able to pay for them. It wasn’t a matter of building arenas or hospitals.

5 – “Rating agencies won’t downgrade Brazil.” Investment grade is still here, but the outlook is very different. Brazil’s new Finance Minister is a desperate attempt to keep the highest regard of rating agencies.

But the worst prediction I made, by far, is this one.

Sorry, folks. These things happen.