World Report, RTE Radio One
The FIFA football will be kicked into play in just four days time, when Croatia plays host Brazil in the opening game of the World Cup. After months, even years, of speculation and drama, will Brazil pull it off?
Football may be coming home, but Brazilians ain’t feeling it. Four years ago, the country was abuzz, streets were decked out in yellow and green. The nation was giddy with the promise of a whole month of the glorious game. But, here in Brazil, the glory has been replaced with a mix of worry and shame.
When foreign fans arrive to the opening match on Thursday, they may wonder why so many live in abject poverty, in homes made from sticks and black bags, why there is such a heavy security presence, and why goods and services cost more than they do back home.
It’s been a chaotic few months round here, with endless public service strikes, violence, vandalism, and vigilantism, not to mention escalating inflation, and a massive property bubble.
President Dilma is worried, not about visitor’s safety, but their perception of safety, she says. The army are on standby to man the major cities, alongside the military police, civil police, federal police, municipal guards… The list goes on.
Here in Sao Paulo, more than two thousand families are squatting on a hill beside the brand-new Itaquara stadium, where the opening match will play. They want the state government to buy the land to build social housing for them. They hope to embarrassing officials into complying with their plan. So far, government hasn’t budged, neither to buy the land, nor to clear them off it. Similar occupations in other cities led to violent removals in the past few months.
Homeless movements have been leading ongoing street protests in Sao Paulo recently. Since last June, when the protests exploded all over Brazil during the FIFA Confederations Cup, every type of social movements has taken their woes to the streets. Demands are mixed, from wage increases to dignified housing, from an end to political corruption to the de-militarisation of police. A governmental over-spend on football stadia, while health and education suffer, is a common refrain.
But, many are tiring of the endless stream of protests. Just last week, a group of Paulista academics published a joint statement – yeah, you’ve got a right to protest, they said. But, do it on your own time. Our commute is long enough already.
Images of native Indian tribes fighting police were published worldwide, while many here wondered why this sector of society should be allowed to carry weapons, and why they seem immune from the same rules and laws as other Brazilians.
The football is spread over twelve Brazilian cities, hundreds of miles apart, so air travel is imperative. All in hand, Brazil is ready, insists team Dilma. But, when heavy rains fell in Brasilia last Tuesday night, the newly built airport was submerged in water. Seemingly, someone forgot to put the roof on.
Scenes were like something from the keystone cops in Tancredo Neves, the international airport in Minas Gerais, as builders, painters and plasterers, frantically wove scaffolding through crowds of commuters and their suitcases. Ground-staff looked ready to cry, as they tried to scream over the sound of jack-hammers.
“Imagina na Copa” chuckled one of the ground staff at the international airport in Curitiba last Wednesday, when it emerged that my five hour journey to Fortaleza would now take twice the time. A fog chokes it, and other airports, every morning at this time of year. Imagining the Copa, I asked whether airline staff could speak English.
She began to hoot. “No, they gave us these little cards with a few phrases on them. Imagine us bent over the little cards trying to explain these delays to foreigners,” she chortled giddily, adding that around three people in the airport can speak English.
“I’m ashamed of my government,” said another commuter stuck in the fog. “Wait until you see the opening ceremony on TV, when Dilma makes her speech. They’ll pump out fake applause, so it looks like we’re all excited. Mark my words.”
Indeed, team Dilma has been on a frantic PR crusade. Worried that the nation isn’t buying in, the government has launched a major television and newspaper ad campaign. Airport billboards remind Brazilians that we’re ready to welcome the world. Full page newspaper ads show that any spend on football stadia dwarves the governmental spend on education and health. A ten year education plan was published on Tuesday.
Many Brazilians are optimistic. A Facebook event, scheduled for the opening match, is called “Find yourself a Gringo husband”, and has thousands of confirmed attendees.
How Brazil handles the crowds is one thing, but how they get on in the football is another. While many say they want nothing to do with the cup, they will still find it hard to miss a match. If Brazil wins and raises the cup in July, Dilma will retain her seat in elections later this year, and life will return to its crazy version of normal, at least until the Olympics Games roll round in two years time.
If they lose, well, all hell could break loose.
For World Report, this is Sarah O’Sullivan, in Sao Paulo. “