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Another ball game

From the apartment blocks at the Rua Consolheiro Olegario in the neighbourhood of Tijuca, you can get a glimpse of Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana stadium, the venue for the final of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Nadyr Dissat, 89, with lustrous white hair, has been living in Tijuca for 35 years.

One Sunday, sixty-four years ago, she took a train from her home in Egenho Novo, a neighbourhood further north in Rio, to the Maracana. Her cousin had bought tickets for the 1950 World Cup final between Brazil and Uruguay. Fans neither wore colourful scarves nor were they draped in Brazilian flags. Dissat, in long pants and a shirt, took mortadella sandwiches with her. Years later, Dissat would see Frank Sinatra and Pope John Paul II at the stadium, but never would the Maracana be that packed again. FIFA’s official match report shows attendance of 173,850, but that day nearly 200,000 fans passed the turnstiles.

From high up in the stands, Dissat watched a tragedy unfold. First Juan Schiaffino equalised for Uruguay and then the visiting captain, Alcides Ghiggia, scored to give Uruguay a 2-1 victory. The pre-game euphoria of the overconfident Brazilians turned into profound sadness. Dissat and her relatives left as soon as referee George Reader blew the final whistle. Once at home, Dissat burst into tears. She had been too ashamed to cry in public. Brazil had failed, as a football team and as a nation.

The World Cup is back in Brazil this year. But the pains of 1950 remain. Playwright Nelson Rodrigues coined the defeat ‘Our Hiroshima’. “The Maracanazo has a significance that transcends Brazilian football,” explains Juca Kfouri, Brazil’s prime football criticaster, who persistently torments the Brazilian Football Association, the Brazilian government and FIFA. “The World Cup was hosted and organised to win at home. Brazil could have drawn, might have won, but ended up losing.”

Football is serious stuff in Brazil, but the debate today has moved away from football. It is about Brazil as a society and the way money is spent.

In downtown Fortaleza, a northeastern city in Brazil, Mikkel Jensen, a Danish journalist who studied Brazilian history and was in the country to make a documentary about the build up to the big kick off, met street kids in front of the local McDonald’s. Death squads that used to operate in Rio de Janeiro until the 1990s chased the kids to clean up the image of the city for the arrival of the international media. For Jensen, this was a tipping point. “A big black car showed up and was shooting at the children in their sleep,” says Jensen in a Skype interview. “The question is why is this happening? It is not the image McDonald’s and the World Cup want to show. The more I was meeting these street children, the more I could potentially harm them.”

Jensen’s work shows an unpleasant but truthful aspect of Brazilian society – the errors in policy priorities and the megalomania of hosting the World Cup in 12 cities. Brazilians, like Jensen, do not seem very pleased with the World Cup. In 2004, when FIFA awarded the World Cup to Brazil, there was euphoria. Now very little of that is left. The atmosphere at the famous Copacabana beach in Rio or the Avenida Paulista in Sao Paulo is sterile and muted. A few flags float in the wind, but nothing suggests this is a country crazy for football. Brazilians want to support Brazil, but not the World Cup.  

Clearly, there will be a World Cup inside the state-of-the art venues and a World Cup outside those stadia.

Arena de Sao Paulo

Arena de Sao Paulo

One of those stadia is the Arena de Sao Paulo in Itaquera, part of the eastern zone of the Paulista megalopolis. The arena has a capacity of 61,606 and will host five games, including the opening game and a semi-final. But Itaquera has one of the lowest wages, highest crimes rates and lowest employment opportunities in Sao Paulo. The cost of the stadium has spiralled out of control: a seat at the stadium costs $ 7,638, $ 1,536 more than at Bayern Munich’s Allianz Arena; the Japanese sanitation in the 53 bathrooms of the stadium cost $ 870,000 more than projected, according to Brazilian business journalists Maria Filgueiras and Thiago Bronzatto.

The main ‘stakeholders’ – Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Brazil’s former president, Marcelo Odebrecht, a Brazilian construction tycoon, Gilberto Kassab, Sao Paulo’s former mayor, Luciano Coutinho, president of Brazilian Development Bank, or BNDES, and Andres Sanchez, Corinthians football club’s former president – are said to have caused the bill for the stadium’s renovation to bloat from a provisional $ 356 million to $ 513 million.

The majority of the invested money, however, comes from public funds: the city of Sao Paulo gave Corinthians a tax break of $ 184 million. The government, through BNDES, loaned the rest after pressure from President Dilma Rouseff. Corinthians, Brazil’s second biggest club with an estimated 30 million fans, now has its very own football stadium, but will the club ever be able to pay for the stadium in the future?

Corinthians and Sanchez seem to think so. They paint a rosy picture: revenues are projected to be $ 151.5 million annually. Corinthians expects $ 52.8 million from ticketing, $ 41.8 million from hospitality, $ 26.4 million from naming rights, $ 17.6 million from events and $ 13.2 million from stadium tours.

These projections seem a little grotesque: the gates receipts per season at Italy’s AC Milan are just below $ 35 million. The Maracana generates only $ 4.3 million in hospitality per season. The talks with possible investors over naming rights have not advanced in the past. The Morumbi, another stadium in Sao Paulo, has hosted U2 and Madonna in the past, but those events only brought in $ 1.75 million – not exactly big bucks. In terms of stadium tours, Corinthians wants to welcome one million fans a season, as many as FC Barcelona does at the Nou Camp.

Corinthians may need to downscale its projected revenues, like most other projections related to the economic impact of the World Cup in Brazil. In 2010, the Brazilian government indicated that the World Cup would have a macroeconomic impact of $ 81 billion, equivalent to a 0.26 per cent of the GDP, between 2010 and 2014, and 0.40 per cent between 2015 and 2019. But a recent study by Moody’s found that the biggest football event in the world would have an impact of only $ 11 billion, the equivalent of just 0.05 per cent over 10 years.

The Brazilian ministry of sport foresaw the creation of 3.6 million jobs, but a recent study by the Federal University of Minas Gerais found that number to be possibly below 160,000. The number of foreign fans likely to travel to Brazil for the World Cup has come down from 600,000 to 400,000.

The Arena de Sao Paulo, like the World Cup, might not produce the desired return on investment. Yet, Geraldo Campestrini, the president of the Brazilian Association for Management and Sport, believes the retention of income, the gentrification and the impetus for trade and local tourism will benefit the local community if the stadium is managed well.

Armindo Ramos, 55 and a member of the military police, protested outside the Arena on Wednesday, demanding higher wages. “This stadium will still have its legacy,” he says. “The investment is high, but the neighbourhood of Itaquera will get a boost from it.”

Kfouri disagrees with Campestrini and Ramos. His concern is that Brazil is investing in a ‘first world’ mega event, while the infrastructure is of a ‘third world’ nature. “They say that a football stadium brings progress to the area where it is built,” he says. “You don’t have to go very far to see the thesis is a lie. Go to the Olympic Stadium in Rio and look at what progress it has brought to Egenho, go to Soccer City in Johannesburg and look at what progress the stadium has brought to Soweto. Football stadia don’t bring prosperity.”

Back in Rio de Janeiro, Dissat has no such concerns. After the 1950 final, she never went to watch a football game again until last year when she saw the Italy vs Mexico match, the first game the renovated Maracana hosted during the FIFA Confederations Cup. Dissat likes the refurbished Maracana but won’t be going for a World Cup match. “I think Brazil will win,” she says with a smile.” If Dissat’s prediction becomes a reality, Brazil will finally have exorcised the demons of 1950. But if the host country fails to reach the final, the World Cup will be a Brazilian nightmare for reasons more than just football.

Granja Comary

Granja Comary

On an early January morning in 2011, heavy rains swamped the mountainous city of Teresopolis, 80 kilometres north of Rio de Janeiro. The Paquequer river bursts its banks and the sheer power of its water left a trail of destruction: 382 people died and 9,110 people became homeless in Brazil’s biggest natural disaster.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, the Brazilian government, led by president Dilma Rousseff, and then state governor Sergio Cabral promised the construction of 6,000 houses to help the displaced. The first 250 houses might be delivered later this year.

Maria Silvia, 51 and a maid, doesn’t like to talk about the tragedy. She works in Granja Comary, a southern neighbourhood of Teresopolis, where the average rent is $ 1,000. There, Brazil is preparing for the World Cup in its state-of-the-art training complex. The Seleção has done so every time since 1990. The Brazilian Football Association chose Granja Comary again as its base camp for the World Cup because it is isolated, private and not very far from Rio’s international airport.

The Brazilian Football Association invested more than $ 6.5 million during the 10-month renovation of Granja Comary, which now includes a barber shop and a pharmacy for the convenience of the players. In addition, FIFA donated $ 1 million to the project.

“Granja Comary is neat and beautiful, and well organised,” says Silvia, who lost her nephew in the disaster. “But here, there is no bus. If I want to buy bread, I have to walk to town. But for the 23 players, everything has been organised.”

At the entrance of the training complex, dozens of fans, dressed in yellow shirts and draped in the Brazilian flags, wait eagerly to catch a glimpse of their stars. They are disgruntled because the practice sessions are closed for the public.

Antonio Jorge Brago, 33 and a member of Brazil’s communist party, is more than disgruntled. He is participating in protests. He says, “Brazil has a precarious social services system. Meanwhile, the World Cup is being organised. It’s an event for the upper class. The World Cup is being financed with public money, but the profit is being privatised.”

Silvia, who makes little more than the minimum monthly wage of $ 310, is also angry. “Since the tragedy, our economic situation has become worse. The government shouldn’t have spent so much on the World Cup,” she says.


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