Brazil finally gets into World Cup spirit

BBC Russian – translation

SÃO PAULO – Officials in Brazil likely breathed a big sigh of relief last night after the World Cup host nation won their first match: the day went off logistically pretty much without a hitch and Brazil largely appeared to be brimming with excitement and warming to the event.

Organisers’ biggest concern – aside from the unusually subdued build-up to the event – had been that strikes and anti-World Cup protests could affect the city’s metro system, hindering the 60,000 football fans from getting to the World Cup stadium.

Despite severe overcrowding at the arena’s two metro stations, complaints about sound at the stadium and the ridiculously short amount of time that FIFA gave the historic Walk Again moment, hundreds of volunteers and stewards ushered tens of thousands of football fans – many in wacky fancy dress and draped in flags – into the newly-built arena.

Some fans came to the stadium simply to soak up the World Cup atmosphere or in a last-ditch attempt to pick up a ticket to the game.

Protests and strikes have marked the run-up to this year’s World Cup, and there are plenty of people who have expressed widespread dissatisfaction over government spending on stadiums and unfinished transport projects, contributing to far less excitement in the months ahead of the tournament.

Decorations that traditionally start appearing after Carnival were only put up in the last two weeks – the murals, bunting and Brazil flags have been thrown together at the last moment, probably to avoid conflict with those pitted against the World Cup.

A recent poll by the Pew research centre showed that 60% of Brazilians thought the World Cup was not a positive event for Brazil to stage.

However, yesterday’s World Cup opening day – by and large – could not have been more different: an electric atmosphere reigned and loud music and vuvuzelas blared out in many communities, including the favela just next to the stadium, where many families having organized parties to watch the first game together.

They didn’t seem bothered by the billions of dollars spent on the World Cup, and nor did the tens of thousands of fans at the 12 host city FIFA Fan Fests and millions around the country screaming at their television sets – which could be heard very easily in the Sao Paulo neighbourhood where I live!

Those who say Brazil “bleeds” football looked to have been proven right.

People I spoke to said that the World Cup was now a fait-accompli and that Brazil had to get behind, and allow the spirit of the tournament that normally paints the cities in green and yellow to get Brazilians in the mood.

One pensioner with her dog decoratively dressed in green and yellow said the excitement had grown and that football allowed Brazil to forgets its problems.

Ahead of the match, Brazil’s deputy sports minister Luis Fernandes told me that Brazilians would rally around the sporting mega-event and that despite criticism, the country was prepared for the event.

“We are confident we can deliver a fantastic World Cup. The atmosphere is really festive and the excitement is building: throughout the country flags are up and samba groups are playing,” the deputy sports minister said.

Harsh crackdown

However, anti-World Cup protests did take place in a number of cities.

Yesterday morning’s demonstration in São Paulo hadn’t even started before riot police began dispersing protesters with non-lethal weapons – apparently following President Rousseff’s orders that nothing be allowed to disrupt the tournament.

A handful of protesters and journalists at the scene were injured as military police fired tear gas and stun grenades at the small crowd of around 100 protesters at a metro station near to the São Paulo stadium.

Protesters had disobeyed police orders not to block a major thoroughfare, which they planned to march to the stadium – but the crackdown appeared to be excessive.

Rallies were called at a number of Brazilian cities, including Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte, where groups marched and scenes of vandalism – including an upturned police car – were met with force from police.

Protesters have now vowed retribution for the police aggression and pledged to continue their campaign, stirred recently by the news that over 40 striking metro workers were to be sacked over their walkout.

However, the number of protesters now seen is a far cry from the mass protests that marked last year’s Confederations Cup, during which over a million people took to the streets in over 300 cities across the country.

Many say the new, more positive atmosphere over the World Cup will now drown out the naysayers, and predict that Brazil will largely get behind the World Cup.

However, protests and the police response to them is likely to continue to draw attention – and some say Brazilians’ World Cup spirit will depend to some extent on how successful the country’s team are on the pitch.

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