There’s just a year to go until the 2014 FIFA World Cup kicks off, and Brazil is in overdrive to get everything ready, including reassuring Brazilians that their side stands a chance of at least reaching the final.
Twelve stadiums in twelve host cities – stretching from Amazon jungle capital Manaus to the southern cowboy lands of Porto Alegre – must all be ready for kick-off on 12 June 2014 for the half a million tourists due to descend on the country.
If you’re in one of the host cities, it is pretty much impossible to miss the fact that the world’s biggest football event is headed that way, and unknown smaller cities are relishing having a global audience. Shopping centres have had emblazoned with sponsors’ slogans, such as “Tô preparado” (I’m ready).
One year out, Brazilians are, by and large, quietly excited about the World Cup’s arrival, seen as the sport’s greatest tournament coming home. But I was personally expecting more in terms of passion from the “Land of Football” – more pride, more “Go, Brazil!”.
Instead I hear many people talking about damage limitation: hopes that the country’s natural beauty, sizzling sunshine, vivid culture and infectious positivity will distract onlookers from any logistical problems that might affect the tournament.
There’s been a lot of speculation over whether the stadiums will be ready: at least one stadium (Curitiba‘s Arena da Baixada) is reportedly on course for completion in 2015 – after the World Cup has been and gone. But in truth, we can be pretty sure that Brazil will have the stadiums ready, whatever the cost and whoever gets it done.
However, less certain are the extra benefits that Brazilians were promised in exchange for multi-billion-dollar layouts on the events – the legacy of new infrastructure, security, and anti-poverty social programs – used to justify hosting the event, which many Brazilians feel “isn’t for us, it’s for the gringos (Western foreigners).”
Some 101 projects were promised, but at least 14 aren’t happening at all: the fabled World Cup “legacy” has yet to materialise in many places and has been severely or completely cut in others, with accusations of embezzled funds and other associated scandals (although this is something Brazilians are pretty much used to).
All this has conspired to create a growing proportion of the population questioning whether, at R$31 billion and rising, Brazil can really afford to host the World Cup, particularly given the state of its economy, which has sunk from the dizzy heights of 7.5% GDP growth in 2010 to just 0.9% in 2012.
“I’m against it being here,” says one of my Brazilians friends. “They’ve promised a lot but who knows whether it’ll be positive for Brazil or not. If it helps tourism, then fine, but imagine if things go wrong… and are we really benefiting from it?”
A less sceptical friend says, “I can’t wait for it to come here and I’ll be proud to be Brazilians when it does. Whatever happens, it’ll be great.”
Sentiment towards the Cup would probably be rosier if Brazilians thought they were going to be led to a stunning victory.
But despite being a land of football fanatics and historical World Cup champions, with five wins to their name and the most goals scored, Brazilians don’t appear to be holding their breath for a Brazil win.
Although spirits were raised slightly after Brazil recently thrashed France 3:0 in a friendly ahead of the Confederations Games – the prelude competition to the World Cup, which starts this weekend (with Brazil as reigning champions), the national side, the Seleção, has disappointed in recent times and, despite many promising individual talents on the field, Brazilians are losing interest in their squad.
This turns up the heat on Brazil coach Luiz “Felipão” Scolari, who will certainly be looking to put on a good show in the run-up to the big event next year, otherwise the current lacklustre feeling among Brazilians for their home side might well last all the way to the World Cup.
And of course, Brazilians are also desperate not to see a repeat of the last time the tournament was held here, in 1950, when they were defeated by neighbours Uruguay in a bitterly-fought final. The pain of that day, even for young Brazilians who weren’t there, is still raw.
The final point we should probably consider is this: however Brazil performs at the World Cup will also determine expectations for the next big event on the country’s calendar, the Olympics in 2016.
This is the full, unedited English version of a blog written for the BBC Russian Service