Brazil’s World Cup: an $11 billion trap

Val Vita

Here in my country, if you were to ask 10 little boys what they want to be when they grow up, it’s very possible that eight of them will tell you the same thing: soccer player. I’m not overreacting when I say that soccer in Brazil is like a religion. People here go crazy because of it – maybe even more than Americans go crazy for football. In Brazil, all the boys want to be Neymar.
This year, as we all know, we are experiencing the delight (or the curse, depending on whom you ask) of hosting the FIFA World Cup. It’s interesting to be here on vacation and have the opportunity to see this particular phenomenon happening. Especially because a year ago the streets were filled with protesters (including me), screaming “Nao vai ter Copa” (which means “There won’t be World Cup”). A large part of the population is unhappy that our developing country is spending billions with soccer stadiums, instead of investing in education, health and infrastructure for our population.
Well, it turns out the World Cup is here. And the people who were protesting at the time are now paying a huge amount of money to go to the stadiums to watch the games. Why? Because everyone here lives and breathes soccer.
Don’t get me wrong. The protests are still occurring, but with very few people compared to last year. Instead, people on the opening game booed the president, Dilma Rousseff, who was kind of already expecting that. That’s why she didn’t speak at the opening ceremony, as expected.
Brazilians were so excited with the start of the event and with all the tourists walking the streets of our capitals that they decided to forget how much money we lost because of the Cup.
Brazil invested $11 billion in infrastructure related to the Cup and a third of this amount was spent on the stadiums. Well, putting money on stadiums is not exactly an investment. One, because all the money raised from the matches goes to FIFA and not to Brazil. Second, because some of these stadiums are never going to be used again.
Here’s an example: $217 million was invested in a single stadium in the city of Manaus, and the place is destined to be used in four World Cup games. Four. There’s no soccer team in Manaus, and famous singers will probably not choose the city as part of a big tour. So, as comedian John Oliver said, Brazil constructed “the world’s most expensive bird toilet.” Sad, but true.
What I’ve been seeing on the streets, though, is pure happiness and excitement. Every time Brazil plays, the country stops. Literally. If the game starts at 5 p.m., businesses allow their employees to leave at 4. The schools do the same. There’s traffic jam to go back home on game days. It’s as if it’s forbidden to do any thing during the games besides watching them.
Brazilians go home earlier, they dress in green and yellow and they cheer. They cheer as if soccer were the most important thing in the world. As they cheer, they forget that we spent $11 billion that we didn’t even have. Go Brazil!

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