Exorbitant costs can’t be business as usual.
Two major events dominated Brazilian news this past week.
One, the Fifa Confederations Cup that started last Saturday where the Seleção – Brazil’s national football team – finally did well, with inspiring performances by 21-year-old Neymar da Silva Jr. Two, the nation descended into chaos.
This time of year was supposed to be a glorious period for Brazilians at large, days of excitement for a football-mad nation.
So it is deeply ironic that perhaps the nation most associated with The Beautiful Game, five times Fifa World Cup champions, should be the place where the costs of hosting the event became a serious social and political issue – with possible consequences for future editions of the tournament.
For the last two weeks, Brazilians have taken to the streets in both peaceful and violent protests.
It all started against the rise in bus fares in São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city and economic centre, but it mushroomed into a myriad demands.
The costs of stadiums were high on the list.
Suddenly, it seems, Brazilians do not tolerate white elephants any more.
The new National Stadium in Brasília, where the opening match between the Seleção and Japan was played, is a marvellous monument to the waste of money.
Brand new, with a capacity of 72 000 people, it was packed to the rafters for the home team.
But after the Fifa World Cup next year is all gone and forgotten, the stadium will struggle to fill 30% of its seats again.
The teams based in Brasília are small, and giants like Flamengo and São Paulo have no reason to leave their home towns to play there.
Maybe a giant music concert will do the trick now and then, but then again, how often can you bring Paul McCartney to the city?
The cost of the National Stadium is an enormous $550 million (R5.6 billion).
Something similar happened in other cities: Manaus, Cuiabá, Natal.
In Porto Alegre, in the south, public money is being poured into a new stadium for the World Cup even after another modern arena has been recently inaugurated.
On a smaller scale, such indignation was felt in South Africa three years ago.
And not only towards hugely expensive stadiums, but also regarding Fifa bossing authorities, the changing of laws to accommodate the world body’s demands and the overprotection of sponsors (to the loss of merchants, shop owners and street vendors).
Demonstrations and violence will in time cool down, the Confederations Cup will limp on and the World Cup will take place.
Brazilians will continue to love football, to support the Seleção and to flock to stadiums.
But there is a lesson to be learnt from these last amazing and quite scary days, and Fifa should heed it.
If even Brazilians can question how World Cups are made and the way the organisation operates, the football governing body is in for a lot of self-criticism.
Or it can ignore the message from the streets and risk a backlash that can only grow in future years.
» Zanini is foreign editor at Folha de S. Paulo, Brazil’s largest daily (www.folha.com.br)
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