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World Cup a year on: Going back to Brazil amid the FIFA scandal

Millions of fans flocked to Brazil for the 2014 World Cup, but questions remain over its legacy.

MARE, Brazil -- In Mare, Brazil, last year's World Cup still evokes happy memories. Its normally drab alleyways and ramshackle homes were painted a dazzling yellow and green. Brazil's matches were accompanied by beer and barbecues; each victory was greeted with dancing and the sound of samba long into the night.

Even the guns fell silent. The three gangs that control this favela of 130,000 residents close to Rio de Janeiro's city airport called a truce for the duration of the tournament.

"It was a great party, and Mare became a really happy and fun place," Eder Micaelly, a local football coach, told ESPN FC. "But that's all it was -- a one-month party. Nothing good came out of the World Cup for us."

As Brazil marks the one-year anniversary of the start of the 2014 World Cup, it looks back on a tournament that generated high-octane action on the pitch  and record profits of $2.6 billion for FIFA, according to its financial report.

Both the world football's governing body and the Brazilian organisers promised the legacy of the tournament would be more than just a cash windfall and improved facilities. In total,  five new stadiums were constructedfrom scratch and another seven were renovated.  

Apart from the Maracana, the renovated stadiums were: Estadio das Dunas, Natal; Estadio Mineirao, Belo Horizonte; Estadio Castelao, Fortaleza; Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador; Estadio da Baixada, Curitiba; and Estadio Beira-Rio, Porto Alegre.

The five new builds for Brazil 2014 were: Arena de Sao Paulo; Estadio Nacional, Brasilia; Arena Pernambuco, Recife; Estadio Pantanal, Cuiaba; and Estadio Amazonia, Manus.

Although the World Cup venues have struggled financially and suffer from poor attendance, what has drawn less attention is the tournament's human legacy.

FIFA's  $100 million World Cup legacy  fund is designed to benefit communities such as those in Mare by providing new facilities and football-based programmes to tackle chronic social problems.

Eder Micaelly, in the background at right, is unhappy with Brazil's World Cup legacy.

Coach Micaelly has been trying to secure funding for a project that taps into Mare youngsters' passion for football as a way of keeping them away from drugs and violence. This favela is considered one of the most dangerous in the country, and government attempts to bring it under control through a "pacification" programme, where the police and the army move in to drive the gangs out, have failed.

Some training sessions take place, but these are often erratic because Mare's only football pitch, located in the heart of the favela, is also at the centre of shootouts between the gangs and police. What's more, the conditions imposed by Micaelly for taking part in his fledgling initiative is that youngsters have to attend school and not be affiliated with any of the gangs, which generate money through the sale of crack cocaine.

Micaelly wants to build new pitches in a safer location, hire more coaches, and offer other types of training, such as learning a trade. The coach is asking for funding initially of £500 per month for himself and three other coaches to get the project off the ground. Micaelly estimates the cost to construct pitches and other programmes would be around £10,000 -- and, based on how these programmes usually work, a sum that would be paid out on a monthly basis as he meets targets.

A former gang member himself, he works as a motorcycle taxi rider, ferrying passengers up and down the favela's steep lane. He simply cannot afford to bring his vision to life.

"Nobody is interested in helping us," Micaelly said. "We were made a lot of promises during the World Cup and were hopeful that we would benefit in some way. Football is a fantastic way to reach out to youngsters in Mare and other favelas. It gives them something positive to do and can be used as a vehicle to address other issues."

FIFA maintains that how the legacy fund is spent is the responsibility of the CBF, Brazil's football federation.

While fans from the host country have memories to last a lifetime from the World Cup, life for some locals after the tournament has been tough.

A FIFA spokesman told ESPN FC, "The legacy fund is a football development initiative which aims at leaving a long-lasting legacy for Brazilian football and spreading the benefits of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. While funding, monitoring and control of the fund are the responsibility of FIFA, project proposals and implementation are the responsibility of the CBF, based on specific plans submitted to and approved by FIFA."

Four projects have been initiated, with three others on the way, but a closer look at them would suggest they are not exactly what Micaelly and others had in mind when they envisioned a World Cup legacy.

There have been two seminars: one for women in football and another on medical issues within the game. Four football pitches have been built in Belem, northern Brazil, although they were completed before the tournament started. Future initiatives include a natural grass field maintenance programme and a distance learning programme for coaches.  

Theresa Williamson of Catalytic Communities, a social organisation that works extensively in Rio's favelas, told ESPN FC: "Given the reality of life in the favelas, you would have thought that the legacy fund could have been put to better use. FIFA has made the CBF responsible for utilising this money, and that tells you all you need to know about how seriously they are taking the whole issue of World Cup legacy."

Micaelly has made repeated attempts to contact the CBF to inquire about funding but says he has not received a response. The organisation's reputation is already at an all-time low in Brazil after the FIFA corruption scandal and the arrest of former CBF President Jose Maria Marin in Zurich last month. The CBF could not be reached for comment on this article.

Despite the setbacks, Micaelly remains determined in his quest to get his project off the ground and is considering writing directly to FIFA for help. The World Cup party may have died in Mare a long time ago, but his dream still lives on.

Vivek Chaudhary covers FIFA and the financial side of the game for ESPN FC. Twitter: @viveksport


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