Brazil – land of colour, music, soccer, sensuality and social unrest
It was Pele, the greatest player of them all, who first anointed his beloved futebol with the now universal sobriquet ‘O Jogo Bonito’ aka ‘The Beautiful Game.’
Maracana, Rio, Brazil
No other country on earth is so mythically linked with football, so a World Cup in Brazil makes perfect sense. In fact, an outsider must wonder how such a huge soccer-obsessed country has not hosted the game’s biggest show since 1950.
Brazil is the fifth-largest nation on earth and the sleepiest of sleeping giants, so much so that politicians have used the phrase ‘the nation of the future’ with unthinking pride. So when will it all be ready?
It should be. Now it is a BRIC nation, one of the next generation of global powers alongside Russia, India and China and with almost 200 million people.
And hosting this summer’s World Cup and the 2016 pkv games online Olympic Games is supposed to rubber-stamp Brazil as the country of the present and not the future, a bona-fide South American super-nation.
In the eyes of the world everything was always rosy: The colour of the Rio Carnival, the samba and the bikini-clad girls on Ipanema and Copacabana, the happy children playing football on the beach, a nation personified by Carmen Miranda with the fruit on her head.
Yet 2013’s ‘summer of hate’ sent a different image of Brazil around the world as thousands protested and riots turned nasty. Expensive bus fares was the catalyst but the nation’s spending priorities and the ‘waste’ of the World Cup became the focus. Pele has waded in ineptly, first criticising, then siding with and then just lamenting the protests.
“Brazil”, intoned FIFA President Sepp Blatter at the start of this year, “has started work much too late. No country has been so far behind in its preparations since I have been at FIFA.”
“We are not ready” was the less than feel-good message from General Secretary Jerome Valcke in April this year, referring to World Cup preparations. A month later he added, ominously, “We have been through hell.”
The International Olympic Committee added salt to the wound by calling Brazil “the worst prepared” Olympic host it had ever seen.
Waving the white flag at FIFA so early on is an attempt to pre-empt criticism before the big kick-off on the 12th of June, but the proof is in the pudding.
The dominant narrative in global news has largely been of a country on the up: Brazil is projected to become the world’s fourth-largest economy by 2050, with only China, the USA and India ahead of it, while their government eyes a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.
The evidence of economic prowess is clear: Brazilian oil giant Petrobras is the fourth-largest non-financial company on Earth while Brazil is the fifth largest agricultural producer, No.3 for fruit and meat and No.1 for coffee and sugar.
When vast new oilfields were found in 2007 the nation’s stock exchange boomed, and the country moved onto France’s shoulder as the sixth-largest world economy. As a vote of confidence in its future, China overtook the USA as Brazil’s major overseas investor in 2009. Salaries have risen and millions have been lifted out of poverty thanks to bolsas familias (family allowances).
Yet the country’s dark side is also hard to ignore. Crime is a constant issue for the locals, let alone for tourists, so a heavy police presence will greet the half a million visitors expected this summer.
Recent films like Bus 174 and City of God have brought the favelas, the jaw-dropping shanty-towns dotting Brazil’s sprawling metropolises, to the world. A quick peek on GoogleEarth and the social apartheid of Rio and Sao Paulo is laid bare. This is a country which still has a long way to go.
Behind the glowing statistics lies a nation handicapped by extremes of wealth and poverty. The World Bank states that the richest 20% of Brazil owns 33 times as much as the lowest 20%, placing the country in the top ten of unequal nations on earth. Less than 3% of the people own two-thirds of the land and while the top 10% take almost half the nation’s income, the bottom 10% are illiterate.
In GDP per capita, Brazil actually trails the rest of South America. The Economist rates it as low as 37th for business competitiveness.
This inequality has led to swathes of gated communities, helicopters and a burgeoning security industry: Brazilians are afraid of each other, and with double the murder rate of the USA, can you blame them?