The Bigger Picture in Brazil


With all eyes on Sochi as the Winter Olympics kick off in the coming days, the 2014 FIFA World Cup has recently managed to elude the gaze of international sports fans. Of course, that's not to say that all is well in Brazil. In early January, Brazilian “Presidenta” Dilma Rousseff and her administration were criticized by FIFA President Sepp Blatter for just how unprepared Brazil is for the Cup, stating that “no country has ever been so far behind in preparations.” Protests have continued to rock the streets of Brazil, with particularly loud cries of generally poor management of the project. Particular concerns include that there will not be adequate accommodations for all of the visiting torcedores and a widespread belief that corruption has hampered the project. Ticket sales are still as strong as ever, but then again, ticket sales don’t a stadium build.

So what’s gone wrong?

The unfortunate truth is that the problems seen in preparation for the World Cup are not the product of simple misfortune for the Brazilian government or population. They’re indicative—and indeed, representative—of the larger problems that Brazil continues to face not only as an interesting, world-class, powerful, and promising state, but also as a still-developing country.

The widely-publicized corruption problems in the preparation for the World Cup are emblematic of the larger issue of public corruption that plagues Brazilian development. The recent Mensalão case, in which public officials were accused of vote-buying for President’s Lula’s government in the mid-2000s, is just one recent example of this parasitic issue.

Unfortunately, these types of problems appear to have infected the development of the World Cup: thus far, anticipated costs for the tournament have more than tripled since the country was awarded the FIFA contract in 2007; multiple FIFA officials are currently under investigation for corruption in connection to the Cup; and—perhaps most damningly—the now-former President of the Brazilian Football Association resigned in the face of corruption charges and fled prosecution for the beaches of Miami.

The ever-present issue of inequality in Brazil has also reared its ugly head in the lead up to the Cup. Despite the highly publicized progress from the Bolsa Familia program, substandard access to education and healthcare stubbornly persists across many regions of Brazil, particularly in the country’s vast interior. Even today, both Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo feature sharp geographic divides by socioeconomic status.

Brazilian officials have only worked to aggravate the issue of inequality as they continue in their preparations for the Cup. Certain types of traditional Brazilian fanfare, such as playing drums and waving big flags, have been barred under the contract with FIFA, and more than 170,000 Brazilians, mostly from favelas or other less prosperous communities, have already been evicted to make way for the Cup's glittering new football venues. In addition, VIP seating – at the cost of regular seating – has been increased in the run-up to the games, while at the same time FIFA recently reported that it received ten times as many ticket requests as it has tickets. Unfortunately, it seems that the Cup may begin without the average Brazilian being invited.

The general feeling amongst most Brazilianists, myself included, is that Brazil will, in the long run, overcome the structural challenges it faces as it continues to develop. However, my relative optimism for Brazil's long term prospects is not meant to imply smooth sailing for the rising international power; indeed, many hiccups can be expected along the way. Let’s just hope that the country can collectively learn from its experiences at the World Cup and work to achieve a more efficient, effective, and responsive government moving forward.