Brazil heading for a roller coaster Soccer World Cup
Written by Yazeed Kamaldien
Among the thousands of ticket holders heading to this year’s Soccer World Cup in Brazil are those who likely have no clue what to expect of South America’s biggest country.
A guidebook cannot fully prepare one for most trips, let alone traveling through Portuguese-speaking Brazil with its push-and-pull between effortless travel and painful inefficiency. What’s written between a guidebook’s covers is at times disconnected from reality on the ground.
Soccer fans focusing on stadium action only would of course not be disappointed as sixty-four matches will be on show. The Museum of Football in Sao Paulo informs that a “football tree was planted in Brazil and has produced some of the greatest players ever”. But beyond soccer, traveling through Brazil has its challenges.
This journalist’s two-month journey through Brazil in late 2013 exposed a nation at times limping towards the soccer tournament’s June 12 kick off in Sao Paulo.
Violent public protests, an aggressive police crackdown and infrastructure failures showed that Brazil was struggling to keep it together.
It will in all likelihood pull off the month-long tournament for Fifa, while the latter laughs all the way to the bank, leaving yet another southern hemisphere country with large sums of debt and useless stadiums.
Not so long ago, South Africa spent billions of Rand to host the soccer tournament that failed to deliver on its economic promises. A few years later, it was found also that the event was riddled with corruption as, in one known example, construction companies acquired contracts to build stadiums via dishonest deals.
Back in Brazil, the situation is not much different. Both BRICS – an acronym for the Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa alliance – nations are considered to be developing countries, with divisive social inequalities, racial discrimination and governments struggling to deliver on basic needs for citizens.
If the Brazilian government has its way, soccer fans would remain oblivious to the inequalities and challenges. The soccer fan should however be armed with a match schedule, stacks of cash and the facts.
Facts imply disposing the stereotypes: not every Brazilian is a soccer player, samba dancer, super model or sex-crazed nut. If these assumptions do not cloud one’s interaction, one will find that Brazilians are mostly warm-natured, welcoming and generous with conversation.
If you don’t speak Portuguese, the conversation will not last too long. It is a struggle finding in the public space Brazilians who can communicate in English.
Frustratingly, this is the strange situation at the international airport in the country’s economic capital Sao Paulo. Ditto at this city’s main bus terminal.
One wonders how Brazilians will fix this and ready themselves for the millions of soccer fans arriving from all over the world for the month-long soccer tournament.
Fifa has confirmed most tournament tickets have been sold to Brazilians, while the majority of international ticket sales went to English speaking countries: America, Australia and England.
Soccer fans need to be prepared for another surprise, if they thought the cost of goods in Brazil was cheap. The only difference between Brazil and most of South America is not only language; its population speaks Portuguese while the rest of the continent speaks Spanish. Brazil is also the most expensive country in the region.
The South African traveler in particular will find Brazil’s prices near outrageous. Using an international pop culture staple such as a McDonald’s meal indicates the price jump. One could buy two of these meals in South Africa but get only one meal for the same amount of money in Brazil.
Another price jump is if you need to see a doctor, so the soccer fan should pack medical insurance. Public hospitals are no help to the foreigner and a doctor’s consultation at a private health care facility cost this journalist R1,500 while medication too was pricey. Best advice is to stay healthy.
Locals often complain that they pay too much tax on everything. Talking about tax, don’t expect a tax return when leaving Brazil.
In many countries, a foreign visitor hands over all their receipts for purchases and fills out a form at the airport when departing. Tax paid on purchases is refunded. Don’t bother holding on to your receipts. It’s not going to happen in Brazil. You’ve just funded stadium debt.
Which leads to the next hot topic: stadiums. In late November 2013 there were concerns about the construction of stadiums after a fixture on the Sao Paulo stadium crashed.
Protests against the Soccer World Cup have also ensued for months across Brazil.
In the tourist-hyped Rio de Janeiro, local police this year launched a tear gas attack on forty families in informal settlements to clean up the area around that city’s stadium.
Protests late last year revealed discontent with corruption around the stadium construction too. Government officials in Sao Paulo confirmed in an interview with this journalist the city’s stadium would be privately owned but the city would assist with financing its construction.
Locals demanded that their government direct funds away from stadiums and take care of what matters most to them: basic services like healthcare, education and housing for the poor.
A R2,3-billion stadium built in Manaus, in the Amazonas region, is meanwhile being considered for use as a prison holding cell after the soccer tournament. It has been reported the 44,000-seater Arena da Amazonia stadium could be used to house temporary prisoners as the Raimundo Vidal Pessoa prison. The latter can hold only up to 300 awaiting trial prisoners and needs the capacity to house at least 1,000.
This stadium, according to Fifa, is being built in a city near the Amazon River, which is “not a traditional hotbed of Brazilian football”. Locals have been outraged at this decision, as the stadium will be used for only four matches.
One Brazilian protester, Danilo Luís Faria, called the soccer tournament and Brazil’s inequalities “almost a hopeless situation”.
“The only thing we can ask is: don’t come for the World Cup. Just don’t. Let it be a fiasco. Spread the word, we can’t stand this kind of abuse,” said Faria.
The Brazil-bound soccer fan should pack an awareness of these social inequalities that fuel the country’s gang system and violent crime. By the way, you don’t need to refer to a guidebook for notes on crime – although it’s there – because locals will warn you sufficiently to scare you into hotel hibernation.
Of course, keeping within the policed tourist areas will ensure safety.
With these challenges, the soccer fan needs to pack a heavy dose of patience in that backpack. Pack an extra dose of patience also to deal with inconsistent Brazilian time keeping.
At some point, it feels like Brazilian time means any time. Simply wait and see what happens. As a good friend often advises: “Just relax and smile”.
Everything could take longer than you had hoped, so it’s best to factor extra time into your planning. It’s no surprise that an event meant to start at 8pm starts an hour later. Be especially cautious about this when traveling to the airport as traffic also gets in the way.
On one occasion, the airport bus was meant to arrive every half hour. It ran more than an hour late for some reason and the alternative was a private taxi to the airport, costing R700 for a 35-minute ride.
So this is the backdrop to Fifa’s self-proclaimed “carnival of football”. It sounds very similar to South Africa, except the issues feet more overwhelming in a country of 191 million people. The soccer fan has been warned.
Yazeed Kamaldien’s documentary film Imagina na Copa focuses on protests against the Soccer World Cup in Brazil will launch in Cape Town on April 9. It also highlights alleged evcitions from favelas, which the government denies, to clear areas of Rio de Janeiro ahead of the Soccer World Cup. To contact the author and filmmaker send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org