Brazilians still have reasons to cheer
RIO DE JANEIRO -- Amid a big hangover and the beginning of a long post-mortem following the Selecao's painful demise, Brazil woke up on Monday with some reasons to be cheerful.
Despite apocalyptic predictions and expectations lowered even by the FIFA public relations machine, Brazil pulled off their second hosting of the World Cup. And the success of the tournament on the pitch must somehow be credited to the country -- visiting teams looked much more resolved to play a good game in the land in which football was reinvented in the middle of the 20th century.
If their team failed to break Brazil's home curse, fans at least will feel comforted by the generally enthusiastic international reception of their country during the one-month jamboree. While that certainly didn't mean Brazil's problems were simply swept under the rug, the difference in atmosphere to the riotous Confederations Cup a year ago helped to bring perspective to the default "scare-mongering mode."
No one here is trying to sugarcoat what happened. As the planes still depart from Rio de Janeiro and neighboring big cities ferry all sorts of visitors home, Brazilians are now starting to assess life after the World Cup. It inevitably begins with the soap opera called "Who will take over the Selecao," which every fours years comes back with a vengeance, and this time will have extra doses of suspense. Especially if the reports that the Brazilian Football Confederation is considering appointing a foreign coach for the first time ever in the 100-year history of the team are to be taken seriously.
Deflated by the emphatic way their perceptions of Brazilian football were altered even before Germany made the Selecao look like a PlayStation team controlled by a drunk pensioner, Brazilians reacted with astonishment rather than the hysterics that followed the Selecao's traumatic defeat to Uruguay in the Maracana final 64 years ago. It would never have been the same way given the crucial changes in Brazilian society during this period. In 1950, Brazil was hardly a place for optimism. It was a country still stuck in second gear and half of its 51.7 million population could not read or write. Life expectancy averaged 46 years. The Brazilian economy was still basically dependent upon agriculture, and hosting the World Cup became a much bigger deal than nowadays.
Still a land marked by intense social disparities, Brazil have changed and the assumption the country would fall into anarchy if the Selecao did anything else than win the title was not only absurd but insulting, albeit an understandable reaction after popular anger in 2013 caught everybody -- the security services included -- by surprise. This is not to say the World Cup has been universally accepted by the 200 million Brazilians, and there has been anger over spiralling costs or simply the excesses of FIFA's corporate zeal. Still, the massive deployment of boots on the ground was much more justified by the global target big sporting events offer for terrorists than any fear of marching people with flares.
Brazil hosted the most expensive tournament in history; a fact nobody seemed to have forgotten in the build-up and nobody hesitated to point out as another reason for poverty in this country. Few people bothered using a calculator in a simple operation that would show that the official budget of $13 billion is basically 10 percent of what the country spends in a year just in education, and it cannot be singled out as a reason for the inefficient public health system, for example. Nevertheless, it's a huge investment that left Brazil with almost half of the 20 most expensive arenas in the world, and taxpayers have all the right in the world to fret about the bill for the party.
At a time where league attendances have hardly been hitting 15,000 spectators per game, which puts the Campeonato Brasileiro below the MLS and even the 2. Bundesliga, it is unlikely the 12 World Cup arenas will prove to be feasible investments, especially the ones erected at cities without a strong football tradition, such as Manaus, Cuiaba, Natal and Brasilia -- the latter hosting a $700 million arena in a city without a representative in any of the top three divisions. But Brazilian football needed a boost in the form of arenas that weren't stuck in the late '70s to make a proper commercial push and stop being merely a player farm in comparison to Europe. Hosting the tournament also gave Brazilians lessons in tolerance within stadiums.
Much as the Brazilian government's attempts to glorify the tournament as the "Cup of the Cups" have been irking a lot of people. The fact is that at the 11th hour the World Cup was delivered despite a backlog of non-stadium related works. Brazil missed a great opportunity to deliver a true legacy in the form of improved public transportation in a country where those without cars are in trouble, unlike their European counterparts who can rely on trains, trams and buses. However, to say life will just revert to normal again now that the tournament has ended is just too simplistic.
In the last 30 days, Brazil showed itself to the world, warts and all, but the country also proved to its own inhabitants that things can still be done with commitment and proper scrutiny -- don't think for a minute that only whinges from FIFA suits were solely responsible for the success of this event. That is a boost for self-belief, despite the attempts at over-hyping it.
Now we just hope that the same people who booed every kind of authority in the grounds will show their dissent where it matters the most: the general election in October. Hardly to do with football or the Selecao, but still a possible important consequence post-Fuleco.