Today’s World Cup kicks off with a slightly different story line than in years past. Rather than capitalizing on the normal excitement of watching one’s favorite team and players compete on the international stage, the world soccer community is intently watching to see how tragic of a mistake they made by allowing a developing country such as Brazil to host the event.
At this year’s cup, the footballing skills of Neymar and Lionel Messi are playing second fiddle behind the political and social drama surrounding the Cup. Tales abound of infrastructure projects running absurdly behind schedule, subway workers in Sao Paulo going on strike the week of the tournament, drug lords sparring with the police units tasked with “pacifying” Rio de Janeiro’s notorious favelas, the proliferation of sex trade workers, and 250,000 people having their homes bulldozed in order to accommodate new stadiums and tourists.
With all of those competing storylines, it’s easy to see why the actual games have not received as much fanfare as normal, though FIFA would certainly prefer to redirect that attention. Its President Sepp Blatter has not been shy in opining that selecting Brazil was a regretful mistake, and the rest of the world may very well agree with that assessment by the conclusion of the Cup in mid-July.
Foreign tourists attending the tournament may hold that same sentiment once they are met by gang members and street criminals looking to make a quick buck off of them. While Brazil is already somewhat infamous for its robberies and muggings, the perpetrators are salivating over the opportunity to shake down binge drinking Western soccer hooligans. Reports emerged this week of one fan who was robbed of $7,000 and his passport before he could even leave the Sao Paulo airport.
Last summer, more than one million Brazilians took to the streets to protesting lavish and wasteful government spending on World Cup projects, arguing that the money should instead be directed towards education and health spending.
But such is the risk in choosing to hold a worldwide event in a developing country that still largely operates according to its own rules. Though allowing South Africa to host the 2010 competition was largely a success, the country is traditionally regarded as a more “Westernized” nation and friendlier to foreign tourists than Brazil. South Africa’s legacy of Apartheid government also meant that there was a built in system for protecting the wealthy from the suppressed poor. For better or for worse, Brazil has no such legacy.
Complicating matters now for Brazil is the upcoming presidential election in October. While President Dilma Rousseff appears poised to win a second term, a series of World Cup crises and a poor response by her government could easily cost her any breathing room she might have had once.