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Fabio Baptista on why the host nation's support is polarised
It will not surprise an international audience that the build-up to the World Cup has been overwhelmingly negative in Brazil. Scenes of local protesting about the huge sums of money lavished on stadia in Manaus and Brasilia, which are likely to poorly used after the main event, have been broadcast around the world. Earlier this week Brazilian riot police used tear gas against striking tube workers in Sao Paulo, potentially further complicating the journey of supporters to the $400 million Itaquerao stadium which will itself barely be completed when Brazil kick off against Croatia later this evening.
Dilma Rousseff is hoping a victory for the Seleção will boost her chances of re-election in October, but for the same reason many Brazilians are not backing their own team. As the Brazilian players left their Rio de Janeiro training camp, the usual banners of support were replaced with angry placards criticising the government and FIFA, and calling for more money for schools. Of course, I should point out that are many Brazilians for whom a victory would be greeted with as much joy as any of the previous five. Who knows, if Brazil do well, perhaps the country will be engulfed in a groundswell of optimism. But I wouldn’t count on it.
The mood was supposed to be so different. Hosting the World Cup and the Olympic Games two years later was to signal a ‘coming of age’ for Brazil; the moment the country placed itself in the global shop window as a vibrant economic superpower boasting fresh, strong infrastructure, a young, dynamic population and scenery to make tourists samba all the way to the airport. Instead our International Business Report, which has been tracking the mood of Brazilian businesses in the run-up to the World Cup, finds just a third of respondents expect hosting the tournament to boost growth, down from 80% at the start of 2012.
Businesses outside of the tourism sector are not hopeful of a massive surge in profits and the proportion planning additional investment activity has ebbed away with wider hopes for economic growth. More than two in five businesses do expect the investment in infrastructure to be a lasting legacy, but unfortunately some of the improvements in and around the stadia will come too late for the event itself. The only good news is that there is now an increased awareness in government and the private sector of the shortfall in infrastructure and what needs to be done, firstly to get Brazil ready for the Olympic Games, and secondly to achieve sustainable growth.
Of course, not all countries get a great return on the construction investments made to host major sporting events; just think of the Bird’s Nest in Beijing and Cape Town’s Green Park Stadium. The problem for Brazil is that the World Cup arrives as the economy has slowed to a crawl and with FIFA under renewed pressure from its sponsors to investigate claims of corruption in awarding the 2022 tournament to Qatar.
I’ll be backing the Seleção for the simple reason that I love the beautiful game. It’s a real shame that more of my compatriots will not.
Fabio Baptista is a partner at Grant Thornton Brazil.