When the referee blows the whistle on June 12th at Arena de Sao Paulo for the opening match of the World Cup between Brazil and Croatia in the country’s largest city, briefly the excitement will take over skepticism about the long-term benefit of such a costly event. Brazil is a country whose passion for football is certainly unmatched. Football is part of Brazilian national identity, and surely less than two months away from what Brazil’s President has called “the cup of all cups” people all over the country are slowly moving into a party mood. In fact, the big news in Brazil will be the announcement of the Brazilian squad by coach Luiz Felipe Scolari on May 7th.
In 2007 FIFA made the announcement that Brazil will host the 2014 World Cup. The reaction was indeed ecstatic and thrilling, with fireworks in all major cities and even a giant yellow football jersey, the national teams’ colors, displayed next to the Sugar Loaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro. At that time, the country’s economy was booming, reaching close to double-digit growth. Brazil became the seventh-largest economy in the world and the biggest in Latin America. And surely, Brazilians and their government were hoping to use the economic success and momentum it has created in the service of its national obsession, futebol and the World Cup.
Today is a different story, the Brazilian economy has slowed down. The country barely avoided a recession in 2013. The government saw massive protests for the first time in the country’s history, demanding less public money for football and more funds for infrastructure projects, health care and education systems. As the country is rushing to get ready for the World Cup, it has run up against a list of delays, caused by construction accidents in various stadiums as well as several cost overruns. In fact many transportation systems that are being built for the the World Cup will not be finished until long after the games are over. So far, Brazil has spent more than $7 billion to update facilities including stadiums and upgrading the hospitality sector. This number is nearly four times what South Africa had spent for its World Cup four years ago.
In Brazil people’s hope is to win the World Cup and the government’s promise, to its increasingly skeptical citizens, is that the 32-day event will be a game changer for the economy. But in reality, besides a quick boost in some sectors, the economic benefits from the world’s biggest single sporting event competition will likely be short-lived. Many hope hosting the World Cup will help lift Brazil out of economic slowdown but in reality, the Brazilian economy is very large, and both the duration and the investment for the World Cup is limited to certain cities and states, therefore the impact will not be as meaningful as the government has promised.
If Brazilians value any single trait, it’s certainly optimism. I asked my friend Rafael in Bahia — the country’s largest city on the northeast coast and the World Cup host, known as Brazil’s capital of happiness due to its countless popular outdoor parties, if Brazil is going to win the World Cup? He smiled and said “Com Certeza” — of course. But when I asked him about Brazil’s economy after the Cup, my Bahian native friend took a deep breath, smiled and said: “Fiqu tranquilo” — Don’t worry… Perhaps reminding me once again that in optimism and happiness Brazil remains unbeatable.