In a game of word association, Brazil conjures many possibilities. Football. Carnival. Party. Colour. Movement.
And, of course, music. Brazilian drums and samba beats that get those hips swinging as only Latino hips can. There’s also The Girl from Ipanema. And let’s not forget Peter Allen’s I Go To Rio or Barry Manilow’s Copacabana. Hey, I didn’t say it was all good music.
So World Cup organisers no doubt thought they were on a winner two years ago when they announced ‘All in one rhythm’ as the slogan for the upcoming tournament.
And just days out from kick-off, Brazilians do indeed seem to have found a singular rhythm. Just not the one FIFA anticipated.
In terms of readiness, Brazil has a touch of the Sochis about it. In the same way that I run around the house in a tidying frenzy half an hour before guests arrive, the host nation has left things to the last minute.
Four stadiums are yet to be finished, including the one hosting the Brazil-Croatia opener (pictured below just a few days ago), while the supporting infrastructure – the stuff Brazilians were counting on to improve their lot when all the teams and tourists go home at the end of July – is even further behind schedule.
Socceroo Matt McKay has described the Australian team’s base of Vitoria as “a bit like a rundown Cairns”. So the boys should feel right at home.
Brazilian football legend Ronaldo, who now sits on Brazil’s World Cup organising committee, admits his country is seriously unprepared. “I feel appalled,” he says. “There is a disregard for the population.”
Of course, such stories are part and parcel of the lead-up to an international sporting event and quickly forgotten when competition gets underway.
The difference this time around is the level of dissension among the locals. In a football mad nation, only 48 per cent of Brazilians support the World Cup. The Economist quoted one activist as saying: “Social movements are quietly cheering for Brazil to lose, even to arch-rival Argentina.”
Many Brazilians are asking what their $11 billion — still a fraction of the $50-plus billion tab the Sochi Olympics ran up — has bought.
And over the past year, they have taken to the streets to get answers, braving the tear gas and rubber bullets that have been used to quell them. One journalist puts the death toll from the protests at 27, with more than 300 wounded. In addition, workers have died in the rush to complete construction, while thousands of people have been evicted from city favelas.
Striking teachers have been chanting: “An educator is worth more Neymar.” Protest banners have warned: “The World Cup will have protests.” One police officer ended up with an arrow in his leg after 3000 indigenous protesters took to the streets.
Even FIFA’s official World Cup song, We Are One, has drawn local ire for its use of non-local talent like Jennifer Lopez and Cuban-American rapper Pitbull.
The way another Brazilian great, Pele, sees it: “Brazil’s own people are spoiling the party.” I think he’s badly misread the public mood.
All of which, coupled with the weekend corruption allegations surrounding the 2022 World Cup being awarded to Qatar, must have FIFA boss Sepp Blatter popping the Panadol at a record rate.