Brazilians warm up to World Cup

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By : Rasheed Abou-Alsamh

With the World Cup now in full swing, it seems hard to believe that just a few weeks ago a part of the Brazilian population was saying there would be no World Cup. Of course these are the hardcore protesters who have been going to the streets since June 2013 to protest corruption and the billions spent by the Brazilian government on building new stadiums for the World Cup.

Doomsayers were predicting massive street protests for this month, similar to the ones last year that saw hundreds of thousands of Brazilians take to the streets of Brasilia, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Thankfully, that hasn’t happened.

Friends kept asking me if Brazil was excited to host the event, and in the weeks running up to the opening I did not witness many public displays of excitement here in Brasilia. But once the ball got rolling, the excitement took off, and now cars are festooned with the yellow and green of the Brazilian flag and cashiers at supermarkets wish you have a “good game” on a day when Brazil is playing. One thing that I can say is that the Cup has totally screwed up television scheduling.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff took a beating at the opening ceremony when fans in the stadium in Sao Paulo — at four different times — screamed out obscenities at her. She deliberately had chosen not to officially open the games or have her presence be recognized on the public address system of the stadium. Instead she sat next to her daughter and cheered the Brazilian team on. Her political party, the Workers Party, tried to blame rich, white people for attacking her, but it is a clear signal that she and her party are suffering from the endless corruption scandals, anemic economic growth and rising inflation that have buffeted her government. Up for re-election in October, Rousseff has seen her popularity dip steadily over the last six months, and although she is still the front-runner, she is not expected to win the election in the first round. Now I just heard that the Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen is going to hand the trophy to the winners of the World Cup in July and not Rousseff!

Lots of hand wringers complained that Brazil was not up to task of hosting such a big event as the World Cup, but they have been proven wrong. The stadiums were pricey and many people made handsome profits off their inflated costs, but as the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper pointed out in May, the total cost of the Cup is equivalent to what the Brazilian government spends on education in the whole country in one month. That really put things into perspective.
The real problem many feel is not the spending on the Cup itself, but all of the surrounding corruption that siphons off billions in public funds that could have been used for schools and hospitals. And as many have pointed out, the new airport terminals that have been built for the Cup in Brasilia and Sao Paulo, will be in use for years to come long after the last fans have flown home.

Brazilians’ devotion to football and their national team is well-known. The whole country literally stops when Brazil has a game and the government has made it a law that all workers get a half-day off when Brazil plays during the tournament. This causes a mad rush of Brazilians at supermarkets buying food and drinks on their way home from work to host their famous churrascos, or barbecues, while they watch the match. On Tuesday, as I headed home from the store it felt like I was back in Jeddah just before Iftar time during Ramadan, such was the hurry that the Brazilians were in to get home in their cars. What was eerie later during the game was the dead silence in my neighborhood as Brazil and Mexico kept each other at 0-0. I was happy that Brazil did not score, as that meant no loud firecrackers being set off by our excited neighbors. I’m not at all sure that the silence will continue on Monday when Brazil meets Cameroon.

The writer is a Saudi journalist based in Brazil.

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