Brazil after the World Cup: almost back to business as usual
Brazil after the World Cup: almost back to business as usual
It has been almost six months since Brazil’s 7–1 shellacking by Germany in the World Cup semi-finals but that is not nearly enough time for many to get over what happened.
Some Brazilians are in denial. Others still reeling from a football apocalypse. Most sit somewhere in the middle but there are two main camps of thought in the debate about the significance of such a humbling defeat.
Rebels and reformers saw the drubbing as a sign of wider, deeper malaise and hoped it would serve as a spur to change the way the game is played and run, much as the 1950 defeat in the final to Uruguay prompted a thorough overhaul and a new national team shirt. Out, they hoped, with negative, dirty football. Out with the corrupt, secretive leadership of the Brazilian Football Confederation. Out with half-empty stadiums, fan violence and the growing gap between players and supporters.
Those on the other side were more inclined to see the result as a blip in the outstanding record of the most successful World Cup nation. This camp includes establishment cronies who benefited from the status quo, those who pointed out that comparisons with 1950 were fundamentally misleading and world-weary sceptics who doubted that any single game could shake Brazilian football’s grandees.
The debate between the two raged briefly, but six months on there is no doubt which side are in the ascendant. Brazil is quietly back to its familiar and comfortable patterns. Few heads have rolled. Debate about the white elephant stadiums has died down. Street protests are a distant memory. And while there are occasional grumbles about the seemingly non-existent – or even negative – impact of the tournament, there appears to be very little appetite for change.
Juca Kfouri, a columnist, said the bitter memory of the semi-final had not yet become easier to accept but it had not resulted in any major change. “It was a shame, a national embarrassment,” he said. “The game will not be forgotten any time soon. But there has been no discussion of the causes. Nothing has been done beyond the switch of managers.”
The highest-profile victim of the Mineirazo was, inevitably, the Seleção manager, Luiz Felipe Scolari, who resigned after the tournament to become the coach of Grêmio. Scolari’s side are seventh in the top division, 19 points off the leaders, Cruzeiro. His departure did not herald a bold new start. Far from it. His replacement is one of his predecessors, Dunga, who coached the national side from 2006‑10. His team have continued with the no nonsense, hard-tackling defensive mindset to great effect, winning six out of the six games they have played since the World Cup, with a 14-1 goal record.
Higher up the political ladder the repercussions were even less evident. The president, Dilma Rousseff, has been voted back into office despite the chorus of boos and abuse to which she was subjected during the opening game and the final. The head of the CBF, José Maria Marin, is still in place, and the sports minister, Aldo Rebelo, was until last week when he was moved to science. Despite the semi-final humiliation, they argue, the World Cup was a success because it avoided the worst fears – protests, transport chaos, stadiums not ready – and provided a stage for some excellent matches.
People are moving on, or at least getting back to what they do best. Some villains have already become heroes. Brazil’s striker Fred, who was lambasted during the tournament for managing only one goal, has bounced back with Fluminense to be the top scorer in the first division. Others say they are moving on: “We have to make the World Cup in the past and think about the future,” Chelsea’s Willian said recently. “We are beginning to overcome that trauma.”
There are also faint signs that playing styles may be changing. The most recent champions of Serie A were Cruzeiro, who play a fluid German-style game. One legacy of the World Cup has been a heightened appreciation in Brazil of all things German, particularly Lukas Podolski, who may not have played a central role in the tournament but has built up something of a cult following with his unfailingly genial comments about Brazil on Twitter.
Some of the most vocal naysayers have swung round. Among them is the former Brazil striker-turned-congressman Romario. “The World Cup, with all the problems, with absurd expenses, theft everywhere, turned out to be good, especially for tourists,” he said.
The economic benefits – although much heralded before the tournament – are still far from clear. Tourist spending in Brazil set a record, rising 6.2% from January to October compared with the same period in 2013. In Latin America as a whole, international tourism slowed by almost half. One study claims the Brazil brand was hurt by the tournament to the tune of $75bn (£48.2bn) in image value because the protests and reports of stadium delays reinforced negative stereotypes about poorly managed Latin American nations.
Similarly the pre-World Cup claim that stadiums would become white elephants seem to be being born out in some cases.
The Arena Amazônia in Manaus, where England played their opening match, has staged only four games since the tournament. Despite the 62.3% attendance rates at those matches – and extra income from evangelical Christian rallies and music concerts – officials admitted they were still unable to cover the R700,000 (£168,600) per month running costs.
There is a similar story at the Pantanal Arena in Cuiabá, where the only decent crowds have been for games played by visiting teams from Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. The Mané Garrincha stadium in Brasilia has fared a little better, with 73 events in five months, including a Paul McCartney concert that drew 46,000 people, and a mass wedding by more than 100 couples. The biggest crowd at the stadium has been for a performance by Beyoncé. Even so, government officials say a new strategy is needed to make the facility profitable. The Maracanã has also been busy, with 77 games and an average attendance of 25,000 – still only a third of capacity.
Altogether, the 12 World Cup stadiums have staged 218 games, with an average attendance of 18,300 (just above the national average), according to a study published in the Folha newspaper.
The grounds were not the only infrastructure projects related to the tournament. The government also upgraded roads and airports. Almost half of these construction works are still not complete, according to the federal audit court, which also reported the total bill for World Cup works has swollen from R2.6bn to R4.4bn.
Resentment of the tournament remains among communities broken up or relocated to make way for infrastructure and real estate projects. Gustavo Dopcke, a member of the Mariachi collective who have tried to resist relocation, said his abiding memory of the World Cup is one of glaring inequality, muted national support and a brutal police crackdown against protesters and favela residents.
“The biggest lesson was to see that the true role of the state is to guarantee the profits of big businesses regardless of the human cost,” he said. “Fifa earned $10bn. But to do this business, many people had to die in the slums, while others were forced to leave their homes.”
In the past such cases may not have reached the public eye but this is changing as a result of another of the tournament’s unplanned legacies. The Mídia Ninja journalist collective gather reports from the streets and broadcasts them through social networks. The pre-World Cup protests were a major breakthrough for the then new organisation now struggling to build on the momentum from that highly charged time.