News / Arts & Entertainment

Woes Sap Hopes Behind Brazil Sport Extravaganzas

Heavy traffic is pictured during rush hour in front of Maracana stadium, one of the venues hosting the upcoming Confederations Cup, in Rio de Janeiro, June 7, 2013.
Heavy traffic is pictured during rush hour in front of Maracana stadium, one of the venues hosting the upcoming Confederations Cup, in Rio de Janeiro, June 7, 2013.
Reuters
All but diehard fans of international soccer could be forgiven for not knowing, much less caring, about the Confederations Cup, a two-week tournament that kicks off in Brazil on Saturday.
 
For 200 million Brazilians, though, the competition is the first in a series of big events that will say a lot about their country, their first-world ambitions and the government's ability, amid fading confidence in Latin America's biggest economy, to deliver on the promise of a Brazil transformed.
 
The Confederations Cup, an eight-team competition, will  serve as a dress rehearsal for two far bigger shows on Brazilian soil - the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics.
 
Japan's national soccer players arrive ahead of the Confederations Cup which starts on June 15, at Brasilia Air Base, Brazil, June 12, 2013.Japan's national soccer players arrive ahead of the Confederations Cup which starts on June 15, at Brasilia Air Base, Brazil, June 12, 2013.
x
Japan's national soccer players arrive ahead of the Confederations Cup which starts on June 15, at Brasilia Air Base, Brazil, June 12, 2013.
Japan's national soccer players arrive ahead of the Confederations Cup which starts on June 15, at Brasilia Air Base, Brazil, June 12, 2013.
When it won rights to host those events, Brazil was on a tear. They were supposed to showcase a country that in the century's first decade channeled booming export revenue, soaring consumer demand and ambitious social programs into economic growth that catapulted over 30 million people out of poverty.
 
But now, at showtime, Brazil has lost its luster.
 
Economic stagnation, rising inflation and a spike in the sorts of violent crimes that were supposed to recede with prosperity are reviving questions, asked here for decades, about how far Brazil has actually traveled on the difficult path from emerging nation into the ranks of developed countries.
 
As the Confederations Cup gets going, in six of the dozen cities that will host the World Cup, many Brazilians fear visitors will see anything but a country in full bloom.
 
“We've been eating baloney and burping caviar,” says Juca Kfouri, a prominent sportswriter and commentator, using a local expression for pretense outpacing reality. “These events are now upon us and this is the same old Brazil.”
 
Sports fans, the government says, can rest assured.
 
Naysayers, after all, routinely predict disaster before every major sporting event, be it here or in the world's richest countries. They quibble over everything from Olympic mascots to the design of the World Cup ball.
 
And the show, invariably, proceeds.
 
“We have no fears of not being ready,” Aldo Rebelo, Brazil's sports minister, said this week, citing ongoing work to finish remaining World Cup venues by a December deadline and expand crowded airport terminals in time to welcome visitors.
 
Lost opportunity
 
Still, critics are outraged by cost overruns, construction delays, a perceived lack of transparency and quickly rising prices for tickets and tourism related to the events.
 
Work at the MaracanIa, the Rio stadium that for half a century was one of the temples of global soccer, took so long that it will host Confederations Cup games with its exterior and much of the surrounding area still a construction site.
 
Then there's the questionable practicality of new stadiums in far-flung cities, including the farm hub of Cuiaba and the Amazonian capital of Manaus, that don't even have top-tier soccer teams let alone a place on the concert circuit organizers say will ensure they don't morph into white elephants.
 
In a recent report, the Federal Accounts Tribunal, an agency that probes public spending, calculated that World Cup costs have already exceeded an initial budget of about 24 billion reais ($11.2 billion) by at least 15 percent.

Organizers for the Olympics, to be held in and around Rio, haven't even disclosed an official budget, though they concede it will cost far more than the 29 billion reais estimated when Rio bid for the games.
 
What bothers many the most is that Brazil, despite lofty ambitions early on, gave up on many of the grand designs it proposed for the big events - from a bullet train between Sao Paulo and Rio to rapid transit systems in smaller cities.
 
Romario, the superstar striker who won the 1994 World Cup with Brazil and is now a legislator in Congress, has taken to the assembly floor to decry squandered time and resources.
 
“Brazilians will be disappointed to have lost yet another good opportunity to make this country a better place to live,” he predicted recently.
 
Undermined confidence
 
The assessment comes as a spate of bad news undermines much of the confidence that Brazil had just a few years ago.
 
After posting economic growth of 7.5 percent as recently as 2010, the country last year grew by just 0.9 percent. A worsening outlook for 2013, combined with rising inflation and a deterioration of public finances, last week led ratings agency Standard & Poor's to warn it could downgrade Brazil's debt.
 
The woes caused President Dilma Rousseff, who has enjoyed high approval ratings since she took office in 2011, to slip in two recent polls. Meanwhile, a series of high-profile rapes and assaults in Rio and Sao Paulo, where violent crimes have spiked by more than 10 percent in three years, is prompting citizens to wonder whether security is slipping, too.
 
Yet Brazil is unlikely to don a dour face for visitors.
 
The government recently launched an advertising campaign that asked Brazilians to flaunt their diversity, creativity and hospitality and “show what it means to be Brazilian”.
 
Globo, the dominant TV network, has run a series of spots during a weekly news show illustrating problems that foreigners face when they arrive - from confusing signs at airports to limited foreign language skills among Brazilians to aggressive street vendors who swarm them at popular tourist attractions.
 
As it lays out the welcome mat, some fear Brazil is slamming the door on itself.
 
High demand for hotel rooms and airline seats means many locals can't afford to travel during the events. And the need to recoup costly stadium investments means high ticket prices that exclude workaday soccer fans from enjoying the national sport.
 
After the re-inauguration of the MaracanIa earlier this month, many longtime visitors remarked on the homogenous, mostly white, audience and a staid public compared with the raucous crowds of games past.
 
TostIao, a legendary forward who is now a columnist for the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper, after the game lamented “the elitization of soccer across Brazil”.

You May Like

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs

New in Music Alley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harry Wayne Casey – “KC” of KC and the Sunshine Band – comes to VOA’s Studio 4 to talk with "Border Crossings" host Larry London and perform songs from his new album, “Feeling You! The 60s.”