How Come Brazil Isn’t Excited Yet? From Rio to São Paulo, the Country Is Surprisingly Subdued on the Eve of the World Cup

How Come Brazil Isn’t Excited Yet?

From Rio to São Paulo, the Country Is Surprisingly Subdued on the Eve of the World Cup

ROGERIO JELMAYER, LUCIANA MAGALHAES and LORETTA CHAO

June 10, 2014 7:28 p.m. ET

Most of the national soccer teams have arrived. Gaggles of journalists from Russia to Japan prowl the cities. Brazilian workers are hastily putting the finishing touches on the stadiums. But just two days before the World Cup opens here on Thursday, one crucial thing was missing: atmosphere.

From the laid-back beaches of Rio de Janeiro, which hosts the Cup final, to the button-down streets of São Paulo, which hosts the opening match, this soccer-mad country is surprisingly subdued on the eve of hosting the world’s largest sporting event, one that Brazil has won a record five times.

So far, the streets and passing cars lack the usual decorations that festoon Brazilian cities during past World Cups, when just about every house or shop put up the yellow and green colors of the Brazilian flag to cheer on the national team.

“It doesn´t even look like we have a Cup in Brazil or any Cup at all,” said Mireille Cillo, a 32-year-old tax lawyer buying shirts at a mall along Avenida Paulista, São Paulo’s central avenue. Most of the stores at the mall featured decorations for Valentine’s Day, which in Brazil is celebrated June 12, rather than the World Cup.

The glum mood reflects the mixed feelings that many Brazilians have about this tournament and the state of their country. Brazil is still soccer-mad, but they are also mad—as in angry—at how their own government and FIFA, soccer’s global governing body, organized these games, with billions of dollars having been spent on state-of-the-art stadiums in a developing country where health care and education lag. The total bill is $11.5 billion and counting.

“I have always gotten World Cup fever—I adore soccer,” said Juliano Escobar, a 32-year-old stockbroker in São Paulo. “But this year I’m really down on Brazil, not in soccer terms, but as a country, and I think that has affected the atmosphere. I have never seen this city so subdued before a World Cup.”

Atmosphere is critical to any World Cup. Much of that comes from visiting fans decked out in everything from the sombreros of Mexican fans to the kilts of Scotland’s traveling Tartan Army. But the host nation plays a big part as well. The streets of Italian cities were a sea of green, white and red in 1990, and it was hard to find a car or cafe in South Africa without a flag four years ago.

Terie Prout, a 29-year-old fan from England, said she boarded a plane for Rio expecting a festive atmosphere. “We just thought there would be lots of big parties everywhere, on the streets and on the beaches,” she said, adding that the rowdiest fans have been fans from other countries, like Mexico. “It hasn’t been as festive as we expected…but I guess it will get better in the next few days.”

Even before kickoff, this is shaping up as an unusual Cup. In Rio, contingents of foreign fans decked out in their colors roamed the beaches on Tuesday. Nearby, large black-and-white soccer-ball balloons painted with red crosses were anchored to the beach in protest, along with banners reading: “World Cup in a country of misery, financed by public money, is a moral problem.”

The mood is likely to brighten once Brazil’s Seleção takes the field on Thursday against Croatia. Many Brazilians say they will still put on a good party—even if they are down on their country. And it is hard to imagine that watching giant screens along Rio’s beaches won’t be an exhilarating atmosphere for foreign visitors.

“The World Cup is going to happen anyway. So why not take advantage of it?” said Patricia Casaes, a 36-year-old stay-at-home mom who was buying the Brazilian jersey for her family at a bustling street fair in downtown São Paulo. “Starting Thursday, everyone here is going to get very excited and they will forget about the problems and the protests. Everyone will be in the World Cup mood.”

But the fact that so many Brazilians have mixed feelings is a testament to how the country has changed, and how global sporting events are facing increasing pushback from the very populations that are asked to underwrite them by organizations like FIFA.

“I think that Brazil has evolved. Football is our passion, but we no longer have the same dependence on it that we had in the past, when it was said we were a nation of football,” said Rogerio Amato, head of a business confederation for the state of São Paulo.

When Brazil won the right to host the Cup in 2007, everyone imagined that the atmosphere would be incredible in the country that produced Pelé and legions of other soccer greats. But much has changed here. A year ago, roughly a million Brazilians took to the streets to rail against the country’s poor public services even as the tab for the Cup grew. Mass protests have since died off, but pockets of hard-core Black Bloc protesters still take to the streets. And scores of recent strikes have added to the tension, including a subway strike in São Paulo that threatens to snarl traffic on game days.

“We had a very different atmosphere in years past than now. Before, we didn’t have Black Blocs, we didn’t have waves of strikes, we didn’t have protests of 30 people paralyzing a city,” said Amato, adding that many storekeepers were afraid that putting up World Cup decorations might invite vandalism from protesters.

Soccer is, for better or for worse, so much a part of Brazilian lifestyle that it is difficult to separate the spectacle of the World Cup from the mood of the country. A June Pew Research Center study showed that 72% of Brazilians are dissatisfied with the way things are going in their country. At this time last year, the figure was 55%.

Meanwhile, the majority of public opinion about Brazil’s economy has soured for the first time since 2010, according to Pew. Two-thirds of respondents to the center’s survey said the country’s economy was in bad shape, compared with 41% a year earlier.

Danilo Goncalves, 46, was riding bicycles with his son along Copacabana on Tuesday in matching yellow shirts showing their support for the Brazilian team. He said he agrees with the protests, but that they won’t dampen his spirits.

“Brazilians are happy, including me and my son. I agree with the protests, but it’s not the time right now,” he said, chanting “Brazil! Brazil!” before riding off.

 

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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