The first World Cup to be hosted in South America since 1962 has faced many off the field problems with mass protests over social inequality and huge building delays to stadia and other public infrastructure. However despite these major setbacks, Brazil has managed to stage a successful World Cup both on and off the field.
Al Jazeera spoke to Claudio Goncalves Couto, professor at Sao Paulo’s Getulio Vargas Foundation, passionate football fan (a season ticket holder at Sao Paulo’s Corinthians) and renowned commentator on Brazilian politics.
David Poort – How did Brazil perform as host of the 2014 World Cup?
Claudio Goncalves Couto – It went well in terms of the organisation. We had some minor problems, which is perfectly understandable if you organise such a huge event. But overall it was a good experience with great exposure for most of the host cities. I do believe that some of the host cities were not smart choices. For example, I don’t think it was a good idea to build a costly new stadium in the city of Manaus that will hardly be used in the future. In fact, even the people of Manaus see it as a stupidity to have such a huge stadium in what is in fact a small city.
DP – Now that the tournament is over, do you expect the media turn their focus back to Brazil’s social problems?
CGC – Yes, I think the discussion will be even louder when people actually see that these expensive stadiums are not being used. This won’t be the case with most of the stadiums. I believe it was a good idea to renovate the stadiums in Porto Alegre and Curitiba, or to build a new stadium in Sao Paulo and to renew Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro. Those were all good choices. But in the case of Manaus, Cuiaba and Brasilia it seems excessive to the necessities of those cities. Now that the world cup is over, I’m sure that the discussion about these stadiums will flare up again.
DP – Halfway through the tournament, FIFA’s Sepp Blatter taunted Brazil’s protesters by rhetorically asking an audience in Rio de Janeiro: “Where is Brazil’s social unrest?” How do you explain that it was so quiet during the tournament?
CGC – A combination of factors are at play here: We saw huge protests in 2013 and in the beginning of 2014 and many of these protesters were simply fed up with going to the streets so frequently. Many mainstream protesters also refused to be associated with violent anarchists, such as the Black Blocks. All they did is delegitimise the protests movement, as many people saw their tactics as inappropriate.
There was also an important change in terms of the media coverage of the World Cup. There was a very different political and social climate prevalent in Brazil after the tournament started; pessimism quickly turned into optimism. Not only because of the initial results of the national team, but because of the event itself. Ironically, the media that created the general climate of pessimism prior to the World Cup changed their coverage as soon as the tournament started, which resulted in very optimistic mood. They showed that the organisation was fine, how visitors from abroad were loving their stay in Brazil and how the matches themselves were a party.
DP – Will this optimism affect Brazilian politics?
CGC – Yes, the sudden up-beat mood also changed the national political climate. After people saw that the organisation was ok, they realised there was no immediate reason to protest against hosting the event. At the same time we did see some people criticising President Dilma Rousseff at the stadium during the inaugural match in Sao Paulo. They chanted words to the president that were very inappropriate to say to a chief of state or to any woman. On the other hand, people who go to the stadium frequently know that these were just words that in general people say to the referee or adversary.
DP – Brazilian media predicted that President Rousseff would get booed if she shows herself at the Maracana during the final. Should she go to this match?
CGC – I don’t know whether it’s wise for Dilma to go to Maracana and be part of the final ceremony. We have an expression in Brazil that applies here: To fight a drunk person. If you beat the drunk, people will say you are a coward because you beat someone who was too drunk to defend himself. But if you don’t beat the drunk, people will say: ‘You’re an idiot for letting a drunk beat you’. So she doesn’t have any good choices in this regards. If she doesn’t go to the stadium, people will say she’s a coward and that she’s avoiding the people. If she does go, she runs the risk of being booed. I think, since this is what could be expected of a chief of state in an ordinary situation, perhaps the best choice is to go and receive the criticism of the people, rather than not showing up and receive criticism for not doing her duty as chief of state.
Do you think the World Cup will help Rousseff’s re-election campaign?
It might. Brazilians are capable of not letting events on the pitch cloud their political decisions. There is no correlation between the results of the national team and people’s voting behaviour in the presidential elections or even in local elections. They can be very happy with their football team, but if they are not happy with their government they will vote them out. I think the successful execution of the tournament could help her but it won’t be crucial. Of course she can try to capitalise on the World Cup by sayin, ‘Everything the opposition says about the government is excessive’. But what will be the decisive factor for her possible re-election is the perception people will have about their economic situation. If people have a bad economic outlook, winning the World Cup would not even help her.
DP – Are you happy the World Cup is almost over, and that the whole FIFA circus will leave the country soon?
I have mixed feelings about this. It was very nice to see so many great games on TV, but it also wasted a lot of my time. It’s almost like a diet: you know you have to avoid it but you just can’t resist. I will miss the football matches, but I know I have to get back to work. On the other hand I am really nostalgic about the national championship and I want to see the matches of my own home team, the Corinthians again. The World Cup for me was like a very good trip; it was a very good experience, but it is also very nice to go back home.