The World Cup from Brazil

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That smile probably wasn't on this fan's face for too much longer/Sarah Luyendyk

That smile probably wasn’t on this fan’s face for too much longer/Sarah Luyendyk

Games, rip-offs, exorbitant spending, and favelas

Article: Sarah Luyendyk

I recently attended the single largest sporting event in the world –the FIFA World Cup. To attend the World Cup was a dream come true. I am a soccer fan and have played for many years.

Brazil, the hosting nation, is one of my favorite teams; few teams have the footwork or the flair of the Brazilians. Also, some of the world’s greatest soccer players are from Brazil, such as the world-renowned Pele, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Neymar, to name just a few. Brazil has won the World Cup five times, making them the most prolific team in international soccer. Thus, I wanted to attend the World Cup in Brazil.

Buying tickets for a Brazilian match was competitive. I lost in the random selection draw. Next, with ‘First Come First Serve’, I woke up at 4:30 am and logged onto the FIFA website, competing against thousands of other fans to buy tickets. I was unsuccessful.

However, I acquired tickets to four other matches: Columbia vs. Ivory Coast, Germany vs. Ghana, Greece vs. Ivory Coast and Portugal vs. Ghana. For cheaper seats still near the field, tickets were $175 per game.

Being at the World Cup, in a stadium with 60,000 passionate, exuberant, cheering fans was amazing. The energy in the stadium, and at times the tension, made me feel that I was part of something great. The stadiums were colourful, as thousands of fans, hailing from countries across the globe, were wearing all the kinds of costumes and colours a person could imagine. Naturally, the stadiums were packed with Brazilian fans wearing the Brazilian colors, but for the Columbia vs. Ivory Coast match, the Columbians filled the stadium.

In my opinion, the Columbians were the greatest fans. They were the most enthusiastic, intensely passionate and ordained in the nation’s colours. For the Columbia vs. Ivory Coast match, I wore an orange tank top in support of Ivory Coast, but it was drab in comparison to the flashy clothes and costumes of the Columbians. In their passion and support throughout the game, they constantly laid their flags and other accessories on me. Their support was so convincing that I almost switched sides. Mind you, the German fans behaved in the same manner when I was at the Ghana vs. Germany match.

I also loved seeing the passion and dedication of the African fans from Ghana, Ivory Coast, Cameroon and Mozambique. At the Ghana vs. Germany game, they were in small pockets of the stadium. In the searing heat, throughout the entire game, they remained standing, cheering and dancing for Ghana.

Watching the matches was what I enjoyed the most, witnessing the strategies of the teams and the skill of individual players. I held the notion that World Cup powerhouses such as Brazil, Italy, Spain, and Germany would dominate, but to my pleasure, this was not true. A number of underdogs stood out in this World Cup. When I watched the match between Columbia and Ivory Coast, the Columbians were phenomenal. They controlled the ball, had fast counter attacks and displayed great footwork. For Ivory Coast, Didier Drogba entered the game in the second half. The crowd cheered, except the Columbians, hoping he would score a goal that would tie the game. He failed to score, but he showed the crowd why he is a great player. He is smart, controlling the game by controlling the ball and setting-up plays.

Ghana vs. Germany was amazing. Though I was cheering for Ghana and the majority of the fans were secretly cheering for them, too, I thought Germany would dominate. However, Ghana showed their skill as the game was a tie. Ghana played exceptionally well and could have won the game. It was thrilling to watch the Germans play. I now understand why they won and obliterated Brazil. They positioned themselves to provide strong support to each other in counterattacks. When they defended, they created a wall starting at midfield that is difficult to break. Also, they keep ball possession; their passes and shots are accurate, they have fast counter-attacks, and implement plays that confuse and breaks down the defense. They’re brilliant.

The match between Ivory Coast and Greece was disappointing. There were fewer fans with a number of empty seats. The energy and excitement of the fans quickly diminished because of constant interruptions in the beginning of the game, due to injuries from the Greek players. The only highlight of the match was once again watching the skill of Didier Drogba, who played a full game.

My favorite match was between Portugal and Ghana because of my favourite player, Cristiano Ronaldo, considered one of the world’s best footballers. I enjoyed watching the technical prowess of this great player. When he received the ball, I thought a goal was imminent. He is a smart and powerful player. He is fast, and skillful with the ball, has accuracy, powerful shots and amazing footwork. However, he appeared frustrated, as on a number of occasions, his teammates were unable to provide him the ball or when he tried to set up.

Brazil was a great host. I resided in two cities for the matches: Brasilia, the capital of Brazil, and the coastal city of Fortaleza. When I arrived in Brasilia there were buses specifically delegated for fans, waiting to transport us to our hotel. It was great because it cost us about $4 Canadian, while a taxi would have cost about $50. The buses dropped us off right in front of our hotel. Also, the hotels in Brasilia were conveniently located close to the stadium, approximately an 8-minute walk from the stadium.

In Fortaleza, buses were also delegated to transport us from the airport to the hotels and only cost about $2 Canadian. They even transported the thousands of fans to and from the stadium free of charge.

I felt safe both in Brasilia and Fortaleza. The streets were packed with military personnel. There were military personnel on every block where the tourists resided. They were helpful, answering questions and providing directions. I never witnessed rioting or fighting outside, and inside, the stadium’s security was tight, with even a helicopter circling the stadiums throughout the games.

As for the stadiums, they were immaculate. They appeared brand new; the cement structures seemed as if they were recently built. The seats were new. In the Fortaleza stadium, I was seated in the second level, a considerable distance from the field, but my view was adequate. It was noticeable that there was a considerable amount of money and work put into renovating or building these stadiums, with the Arena Castelao seating 67,000 fans and the Estadio Nacional de Brasilia holding 70,000 fans. Contrast this to the poverty of the country.

Then there was FanFest. Free for fans, it was a designated, sandy area, catering to the thousands of fans who were unable to attend the matches. It consisted of large screens, food, beverages and alcohol. I attended a FanFest to watch the Brazil vs. Cameroon match. Thousands of fans were packed together, standing together in searing heat. After the game, it became one big booze fest (though I did not participate).

At the Fortaleza airport, some Brazilians attempted to converse with me, but there was a language barrier. A young Brazilian woman who could speak fluent English chatted with me. She was helpful, as I was uncertain about the exact location of my hotel and my bus stop. She assisted a man from China and me in finding our hotel.

I met her again near the stadium. She came to greet me, bending forward to touch her cheek against mine. I was ignorant about their type of greeting and I kept moving back from her until she explained to me how Brazilians greet each other. She was a great sport about it.

Then, there were the vendors. In Brasilia they were located in an area just in front of the stadium. In Fortaleza they were located in a section in front of the hotels and along the path to the stadium. They were open to bartering, and charged reasonable prices for jerseys and other clothing. Or, at least, I thought they were being sold for a reasonable price! Brazilian jerseys were popular amongst the fans, especially Neymar’s jersey, number 10.

However, I noticed a dark side to World Cup. In the months prior to and during the World Cup, there were demonstrations and riots in opposition to FIFA. I asked the Brazilian woman I met in Fortaleza about the demonstrations and riots. She explained that when Brazil was chosen to host the World Cup, the Brazilians were excited. Hosting World Cup was supposed to be advantageous for the Brazilians, such as creating jobs and other opportunities. But, the cost to build the stadiums, other infrastructure, and logistics were exorbitant. To cover the costs, the government used money that was allocated for social services, education, and transportation. This greatly affected many Brazilians, especially the poor. In addition, to pay for the expenses, the cost of living increased. All this exasperated the poverty the Brazilians lived in.

It made sense. To build these immaculate stadiums would have cost a fortune. To transport the thousands of fans for free or at a discount price was at the expense of the Brazilian people. It was FIFA, big sponsors, hotels and the airlines that heavily benefitted from World Cup, not Brazilians. For example, at the stadiums and FanFest, Brazilian vendors were excluded from conducting business. Big sponsors such as Budweiser and Coca-Cola dominated products sold to the fans. We were only allowed to purchase food, water and alcohol from Budweiser or Coca-Cola. Outside water or food was prohibited in the stadiums and FanFest. Coca-Cola sold a cup of water for $6 at the stadium while vendors outside of the stadium sold water for $1 or $2. In the stadiums, FIFA monopolized the selling of World Cup gear: jerseys, shirts, hats and other accessories.

Furthermore, in the stadiums, I noticed the fans were predominantly white. This is in contrast to a nation that is heavily multiracial. Also, there is great disparity between the rich and the poor. When I traveled outside of the tourist area in Fortaleza, I witnessed extreme poverty.

Where the tourists ventured, with the concentration of police and military personnel, only on two occasions did I witness poverty. I suspect there was limited visibility of poverty in these areas because when a country hosts a huge sporting event, the government removes the homeless and other signs of poverty from public view. However, in Fortaleza, when the buses transported us to and from the stadium, the route consisted of travelling through impoverished communities.

People lived in shoddy, crumbling cement homes attached to each other. These homes were so shoddy that it appeared that they did not have electricity or plumbing. Garbage was strewn on the ground and there were dirty, unsanitary pockets of water. Not too far from these communities were sections of affluent communities consisting of modern apartments and or houses. These gated communities were separated from the poor communities by tall cement walls, with barbed wire coiled on top, or broken glass cemented on top of the walls.

Attending the World Cup in Brazil was a good experience overall. I desire to return to Brazil to learn more of the culture and visit the many sites. I found I enjoy Brazilian culture and its social life. I definitely plan to attend some professional soccer matches, specifically watching Cristiano Ronaldo with Real Madrid.

After all of this, for the Brazilian people, especially the poor, hosting World Cup cost them heavily, and they stood to gain little from the beautiful game.

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