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Thursday 19 October 2017

Carnival atmosphere dampened by public anger over cost of World Cup

A demonstrator shout slogans against FIFA during a protest against FIFA World Cup, at a bus station in Brasilia, Brazil
A demonstrator shout slogans against FIFA during a protest against FIFA World Cup, at a bus station in Brasilia, Brazil
South America's biggest country has struggled with its preparations amid public anger at the €8bn price tag

Tariq Panja

RIO de Janeiro's streets are transformed every four years when Brazil's national soccer team prepares for a World Cup.

Yet take a look around the "Marvellous City" with less than two weeks to kick-off, and there is little sign of World Cup flair.

"It's very weak this year," said Natan Ferreira, a 44-year-old electrician, as he rigged lines of plastic Brazil flags in Praca Maracana, a five-minute walk from the 74,698-seat arena that will host the 32-team tournament's final on July 13. "We've just got these flags, nothing else. It was much bigger in 2010."

The last time downtown Rio's vendors were selling World Cup hats, flags and shirts the country was erupting in self confidence. In 2010 the economy was growing at the fastest pace in more than two decades.

Since then it has slowed to the weakest three-year pace in a decade and consumer confidence has dropped to the lowest level since 2009.

Soccer is Brazil's passion. When the country was handed the opportunity to host the World Cup in 2007, thousands took to the streets to celebrate.

Since then the mood has soured as South America's biggest country has struggled with its preparations amid public anger at the €8bn price tag.

Almost every one of the 12 stadiums being built or remodelled for the event has cost more than anticipated and several promised urban mobility projects have either been scrapped or delayed.

During last year's Confederations Cup, more than a million people took to the streets in the biggest protests in a generation.

"Tourists: Don't get sick. We have stadiums but we don't have hospitals," reads graffiti across the street from the Pedro Ernesto hospital just 800 metres from the Maracana stadium.

Rivaldo da Silva, a 59-year-old garbage collector, and self-declared soccer fanatic, walked past the hospital entrance with a broom tucked under one arm as he rolled a bright orange trash can.

"We should be more concerned about healthcare and crime than doing a World Cup for a bunch of tourists," he said.

The mood isn't much better in other parts of the city of 6.4 million.

In the upmarket Flamengo neighbourhood, an entire street is festooned with flags of all the competing nations.

Yet hanging from one window is a Brazil flag emblazoned with a popular refrain from protesters: "World Cup for who?"

The government's reaction has been to publish a pamphlet showing its invested 100 times more on health and education than the eight billion reais (€2.6bn) it's devoted to 12 World Cup stadiums.

Irish Independent

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