Brazil was the perfect host, but legacy remains uncertain

brasilobserver - Jul 17 2014
Photo: Ricardo Stuckert/CBF

(Leia em Português)

By Guilherme Reis

During the month between June 12 and July 13, if asked by someone from the overseas about what was going on in Brazil, I could answer with a song of the Brazilian singer and composer Chico Buarque, “Meu Caro Amigo”. Created by Chico and Francis Hime in the format of a letter, the song was written for the playwright Augusto Boal, exiled in Portugal, who was always complaining about the lack of news from his friends in Brazil. It was 1976, the height of Brazil’s military dictatorship, and the process of reform promised by the current president, the general Ernesto Geisel, was going very slowly.  Roughly translating from Portuguese to English, at the chorus the lyrics of the song say: “Here on Earth people are playing football; there is a lot of samba, choro and rock’n’roll; some days it rains, another the sun shines; but what I want to say is things are dark”. And it was indeed.

The year now is 2014, and obviously a lot has changed. We no longer live under a dictatorship; we are enjoying perhaps the most spectacular moment of our young democracy, reborn in 1989. To the eyes of the world, we are that young man that has just reached maturity, has won a car, gets a girlfriend and goes around parading his new status of a grown man. However, the pimples on the face are still there, showing that there is still a long way to go.

Elevated to the rank of being host country of the World Cup, we set out to show to the international community that we had achieved a new status in the order of things. At the same time, we opened our most noble and barbaric feelings, our qualities and our problems for all to see and hear. So the song of Chico still has a lot of meaning.

What the world saw a great deal of football during this memorable month in Brazil. The stadiums were full to capacity. Records were repeatedly broken on social networks. The bars and streets of the host cities from north to south of the country became celebration centres for visitors from over 200 countries. The interaction between fans was friendly. The overwhelming majority heaped praise on the Brazilian reception and hospitality. On the pitch, there were many goals, amazing results and historical performances. And speaking of history, research conducted by BBC shows that the World Cup in Brazil was voted the best of all times by England fans, with 39% of the votes. Apparently, after all, we had, the ‘Cup of the Cups, as predicted by President Dilma Rousseff.

But deep down, what does this all mean for Brazil? If we were to write a collective letter to for a friend or relative oversees who we have not seen for ages, there are two options: we could boast about how our lives are perfect and full of unparalleled success, or tell the truth. And the truth, as we know, is not absolute, but fairer when based on facts. And the facts show that things are not dark, like they were for Chico said, but things aren’t a bed of roses either.

While Brazil proved perfectly capable of hosting a World Cup, going against the catastrophic expectations of both the native and international media, it now faces greater challenge: to build a permanent legacy, which will be much harder. Before the ball rolled in Corinthians Arena for the opening game, the two areas that had been most criticised and fretted about were housing and security. Now the fans have gone back to their respective countries, housing and security have to remain the top concerns in the country.

According to the human rights think tank, Popular Portal of the World Cup and the Olympics, more than 150 thousand people have been removed from their homes because of works related to the two mega sporting events. In many cases, we see whole families being displaced from from urban centres, with no guarantee of fair compensation. Neither the federal government nor the state and municipal authorities have confirmed this number, at most, they argue that many developments that required removal were connected to the World Cup and Olympics. Regardless of this the provision of housing remains a major issue in Brazil 5.8 million families do not have adequate habitation in Brazil and it is hard to see how the legacy of the World Cup can help them.

With regard to public safety, the legacy of the World Cup is contradictory. On the one hand, some of the massive investment made to ensure the safety of fans during the event (R$ 1.9 billion) could have longer term results, for example, the equipment used for the monitoring of federal highways and border regions, not to mention the training of police, who should be more equipped to do their job. But on the other, during the World Cup what we saw was increasing truculence of public security authorities when required to deal with protests. The disproportionate use of force was evident, at almost all the manifestations police numbers and aggression far exceeded, that of demonstrators and invariably the end result was clashes between the two parties. Stories abound in relation to abuses of power, arbitrary arrests and cases where lawyers and journalists could not do their jobs. Thus, there is a big question about whether the World Cup truly brought benefits to public safety.

Less doubtful is the legacy for tourism, although even this is not definitive. A government survey showed that Brazil received one million foreign tourists from 203 different countries during the World Cup – a number that exceeded initial expectations, which were estimated at 600 thousand visitors from less countries. The majority of the visitors (61%) had not been to Brazil before and praised the infrastructure, services and tourism. The sectors evaluated best were hospitality and gastronomy, with 98% and 93% approval respectively. In the same survey, 95% of tourists said they intended to return to the country. Brazil now has a great opportunity at hand, because the stories of these people will spread and automatically, many others will be interested in visiting the, especially with the Olympics in Rio 2016. However, it cannot depend solely of the word of mouth. The country’s tourist sector share the almost unanimous opinion that there is a need for more investment in promoting Brazil abroad by Embratur.

In the end airports across the country, passed the test. With total investments of R$ 8.78 billion, significant improvements were made. This increased annual passenger capacity to 67 million, an increase of 52%, which is an important legacy with the increasing domestic demand. Between 2005 and 2013, airlines gained 51.2 million domestic passengers, according with the National Civil Aviation Agency data. During the World Cup, 16.7 million passengers used the airport services in the country. The rate of delayed flights was only 7.46%, lower than both the European standard of 7.6% and the international standard which is 15%, according to data from Eurocontrol.

In relation to improved urban mobility, the main legacy of the World Cup promised to the residents of the host cities, there is not much to celebrate. According to an investigation conducted by the O Estado de São Paulo newspaper, in the 12 host cities, 74 urban mobility works were delivered and 46 remain unfinished.

Finally, the most important thing of all less important things: football. The biggest defeat in the history of the Seleção in World Cups, 7-1 against Germany, and coming fourth place after the sufferable 3-0 against Holland created a consensus that reform of national football is necessary. This need is not new, as we showed in the report by Wagner de Alcântara Aragão in the Brasil Observer edition 13. But despite the sense of urgency, the chance of real change soon is unlikely. This is because together the three main actors responsible: the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF), the clubs and Globo TV, make it almost impossible to transform the greater national passion.

The system in Brazil is highly flawed, as explained the journalist Jose Antonio de Lima in an article published in the Esporte Fino blog: “The Electoral College that chooses the president of the CBF has only 47 votes: the 20 clubs of the Brazil’s first division and the 27 state federations. Players, coaches, referees, amateurs and clubs of Series B, C and D do not have a say. In the last CBF election in April, Marco Polo Del Nero was elected with 44 votes, an almost unanimous explained by the fact that both clubs and federations are required to act under the dominance of the CBF-Globo complex in Brazilian football.

“The clubs in Serie A vote in the election because they are hostages of Globo TV. After decades of catastrophic management, clubs accumulate huge debts and to survive, they largely depend on the money of television. With their regular payments or advances, Globo keeps clubs under its control. In exchange, the network retains the rights to broadcast the Brazilian Championship and their privileges with the Brazilian national team,” he added.

Add to this the scrapping of the basic categories, geared almost exclusively to serve the interests of businessmen who profit from the increasingly early selling of players to foreign leagues and there is no regular investment for athletes and citizens in the country, they are just marketed as products.

All this directly affects the average attendance of stadiums. Brazil is only 18th place, with an average of 12,971 people turning per game. This is behind both Australia (17th with 12,990) and the United States (8th with 18,845), where there is no great tradition of football. This is why there is so much fear about what will happen to the newly constructed and renovated arenas, which cost a total of R$ 8 billion.

So while the World Cup has left behind a very positive spiritual memories, only time will confirm if the total investment of more than R$ 20 billion was a truly good business for Brazil.