Samba shame: The ugly truth behind the beautiful game

Away from the glitz and glamour of Costa do Sauipe, protests rage at the inequality encapsulated by the World Cup in Brazil — but few will listen to these grievances

Today, at lunchtime, Brazil slides the mask back over its fraught and frustrated face, turns its good side to the world and pretends everything is alright for a few hours. The location gives that much away. The hugely exclusive five-star Costa do Sauipe resort will host the World Cup draw but while just outside Salvador — one of the centres of the protests surrounding this tournament — proceedings will be out of the reach of the common man and away from his anger. The regular people of this country that have footed an astonishing bill for a five-week party are seen as a nuisance at its launch, as anyone on the guest list must be all smiles and positivity. And, of course, they must be all about the soccer.

According to Fifa’s own website: “This tourist hotspot on the Bahia coastline will host an event that will give 32 people plenty to worry about. We are speaking, of course, about the 2014 Fifa World Cup Brazil final draw and its impact on the coaches of the 32 qualifying national sides.” The problem is that there’s not a word about the wider impact and what this tournament will give tens of millions of others to worry about, long after Fifa and its corporate partners have headed back home.

You can quickly see why this World Cup has become about so much more than soccer. For those naïve enough to think that sport and politics somehow don’t mix when the truth is they are deeply intertwined, you need only look at what’s been happening here and at how this tournament has been organised, funded and run. Just a few years ago, former president Lula said the event would be transparent and accountable; former sports minister Orlando Silva said no public money would be used to fund stadia; former Brazilian Football Confederation chief Ricardo Teixeira went one further and said no public money would be used to pay for anything.

To look upon those assurances now is galling because here we are, €11.2bn of mostly public money later, and we’re still not ready. In fact several of the legacy projects that may have helped improve the actual lives of people will never be ready because they were cancelled, as luxuries ran over time and over budget (they mostly involve transport projects in Brazil’s chaotically choked-up and congested cities). It’s little wonder in hindsight to find out that the influential Local Organising Committee wasn’t representative of society, rather a very specific sector of society.

“I am not against the World Cup but I can’t be for the money that is being spent on it,” said former World Cup winner and current socialist politician Romario. “As much as we want the World Cup, the Brazilian people deserve respect, they don’t deserve this open abuse of their money... the much-discussed social legacy looks like it won’t get off the drawing board. Almost all the transport projects are behind schedule, some have been put back and will be opened only after the World Cup and others have been cancelled altogether.”

But if cynics want to put such an outcry down to party allegiances, then Romario’s hasn’t been a lone influential voice. Even World Cup ambassador Carlos Alberto has criticised the tournament. “It’s a missed opportunity to make a few things better for the Brazilian public,” he noted. “I am in no doubt the tournament will be a huge party, but the improvements to infrastructure are not going well.”

From early on, this World Cup would have been considered troublesome. Teixeira, as head of the Brazilian Football Confederation, saw his power lie in the state football presidents rather than the clubs and that essentially caused a six-year delay. With the government wanting eight host cities, Teixeira lobbied for 12 to keep more of his supporters happy, and in order to make sure none got offended, those cities weren’t named until May 2009. That may sound okay, but unofficially Brazil knew it would be getting the World Cup in 2003 when it was announced it would return to South America. It knew officially in October 2007, yet the huge pause in taking the first basic step drove costs much higher. That in a place that desperately needs every penny for real-world improvements and here’s why.

This isn’t a country with adequate public transport. In Sao Paulo last month, a world-record 192-mile traffic jam was recorded. And despite being the world’s second-largest city and construction work slowly taking place at its main airport, right now Guarulhos makes Dublin’s Terminal One look like a triumph of engineering and architecture. On top of that, with so many of the new lower-middle class living in tiny apartments in the suburbs of these cities, they needed better links to their work but instead they got revamped stadia and little else. It’s not unusual for people to spend a minimum of two hours getting both to and from work.

This isn’t a country with adequate healthcare either. The government recently announced a shortage of 168,000 physicians as many home-trained doctors won’t work in poorer areas. And there are plenty of those. In Manaus, over 20% of local houses don’t have proper plumping yet the Arena De Amazonia will still cost around €200m, have a capacity of 46,000 and will never be even a fraction full for soccer after next summer. Indeed nationwide, over 15% of children under four live in areas where there is sewage running openly. They don’t need this World Cup.

Nor is this a country with adequate education. On the night England qualified and Noel King threw his toys out of the pram and in the direction of Tony O’Donoghue, teachers and their supporters were protesting over facilities and pay in Rio de Janeiro. When police responded with tear gas, they were forced to take shelter beyond the red carpet in a theatre hosting a documentary marking 10 years since the famous film about life in the favelas, City of God. Afterwards, Cavi Borges, director of that documentary, said of his cancelled screening. “It was just like a war. Every day there’s something like that.” When the show finally aired, he invited those same teachers onto the stage to unfurl banners and make their grievances clear to a wider audience.

All in all, you can understand why people are angry, even if that’s hidden away today. Recently, while I was giving a talk to a small-town secondary school, they asked about sport in Ireland and, when hearing of Gaelic football, were curious. But an offer to show them the basics of the game had to be rejected as despite the large numbers attending, there was nowhere to even kick a ball. That may be anecdotal but it’s indicative of the problems. The kids there were hugely excited about the World Cup for sure, but one wonders how can it inspire a generation when they don’t even have a place to play sports right now.

Yet their parent’s money has disappeared, mostly on stadia, meaning the big winners have been construction companies who just happen to be major funders of Brazil’s oft-corrupt political classes. The sceptic might call it legal money laundering but neither the government nor Fifa are having any of it. And if they won’t accept criticism, they sure aren’t going to accept protests.

It only made a paragraph or two worth of news around the globe, but in light of this reality, the comments of World Cup security adviser Andre Pruis on Wednesday were chilling. “If crowds get violent, do you think a water cannon is going to disperse them?” he said, shrugging his shoulders. “You have to disperse them. A rubber bullet is a low level of action. It hurts, but what are police going to do? Use a pea shooter? Or water cannons?” The comments showed a lack of respect and understanding for the complexity of how peaceful protests here can be hijacked by anarchists known as the Black Bloc and how police brutality is a major factor.

Last year there were 1,890 police killings while, in one notorious case, a group of policemen were accused of torturing and murdering a local man, Amarildo de Souza, in the Rocinha favela close to where the England team will stay at the Royal Tulip Hotel. Yet Jose Mariano Beltrame, the Secretary for Public Security, said of heavy-handed tactics in general: “You cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs.” When I asked about the entire situation, one Brazilian student summed it up perfectly in three words. “Brazil is chaos,” she said.

Of course, none of that will come up at the Costa do Sauipe, but when there are criticisms of this tournament, the stock response is a report by accountants Ernst & Young citing the World Cup will inject €34.8bn into the economy. What it neglects to say is, it’ll be injected into those already most well off and who own the best hotels, restaurants and bars in the best locations, all in a country that already has some of the worst inequality on the globe. Brazil may be becoming an economic powerhouse but the rising tide has properly lifted just a few luxury yachts. And besides, just look at the figures to emerge from the last World Cup.

While Fifa earned €2.6bn and returned to its Swiss base with a €470m profit, South Africa’s government report assessed the tournament cost the country more than €2.3bn. It’s unethical yet what does it say that we ignore this in the name of soccer?

Instead, the sporting world seems more concerned about pots and pairings today, and that’s the most disappointing part of it all. They’ve bought into the lie and the sad reality is that so much of the negativity regarding this World Cup has focused on the wrong areas. Nobody will care about what has happened here once the show moves on, but they should at the very least care about what happened here because of that show.

It may seem strange on the verge of a World Cup, and in the most successful and fanatical soccer country of them all, it’s not the stereotypical party everyone expects. But much of Brazil has realised there’s more to this than sport, and so should everyone else, even as they tune into the draw.


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