I’m re-posting the following guest post I wrote for my friend and fellow gringo Ilya Brotzky’s blog.
What words come to mind when you think of Brazil? If you were to ask that to virtually any foreigner, among “beaches,” “bikinis,” and “samba” would certainly be “football.” Of course, all these possibly pernicious stereotypes fail to demonstrate the cultural complexity of the nation, but it’s hard to deny that this country lives and breathes futebol. Then, it’s natural to believe that FIFA’s selection of Brazil for the 2014 World Cup is a perfect location for the event. Yet, it might shock you to learn that amid the recent, anti-government protests gripping the country, one of the common chants emanating from the crowds (and online) has been, “Não vai ter Copa!” (“There won’t be a Cup!”)
Given the movement’s outrage over government corruption, inadequate social programs, and the oppression of the middle and lower classes, this anti-Cup sentiment is understandable. The shady contracts given to suspicious companies for the construction of infrastructure will exceed the cost of the past three Cups combined. Those opposed to the Cup assert that the billions of reais spent in preparation for the event would be better spent on hospitals and schools than on shiny, new stadiums.
Nonetheless, in spite of these mega-events often failing to leave the positive legacies they promise, the Brazilian people stand to gain a lot from the Cup beyond tourism revenues and extended metro lines.
Though many might discount national sporting success as a distraction to dupe the masses, a Brazilian title victory in 2014 would renew national pride and unity during this time of distrust and pessimism. Given the national team’s landslide win in the Confederations Cup against defending World Cup champion Spain, winning a record-extending sixth World Cup is a good possibility especially with home field advantage. Furthermore, try telling the 65% of the country who still wants the World Cup that they shouldn’t be allowed to cheer for A Seleção on national soil.
Still, perhaps the Cup’s greatest benefit to the country can be the change it spurs in how the world perceives Brazil. Some 600,000 foreigners will descend upon Brazil, and the image of Brazil these revelers develop will propagate when they return home to share their experiences with multitudes more friends, family, and colleagues. Imagine if these visitors were to rave about helpful, foreign-language-speaking Brazilians as well as excellent service at restaurants and hotels in safe, clean neighborhoods.
What’s more is that the Cup will be the single most watched event ever to grace screens all over the globe. As such, with billions of people tuned in, there’s so much opportunity through media to showcase Brazil’s beauty, diversity, and accomplishments. What if the country were to rally behind a crowdfunding campaign to buy a commercial spot for the final match so as to portray all this country offers? Maybe then businesses would be more eager to work in Brazil, tourists would be more excited to visit here, and students would be more open to studying in the country.
As tainted by government, corporations, and FIFA as it might seem, the World Cup represents a rare opportunity to change Brazil for the better. Grassroots initiatives in technology, activism, art, and media can seize this event to shape Brazil’s future, but we need to be creative and resourceful in collaborating for the greatest impact.
Ultimately, the real question isn’t if Brazil will host the World Cup or even if we should want Brazil to host the World Cup. Instead, Brazilians and foreigners alike should be asking what we as citizens, tourists, and football fans can do to make the event the most beneficial possible for this promising country. In the meantime, let’s keep (peacefully) demonstrating for government transparency and public investments to improve Brazilians’ lives across all strata of society.