When loathing turns to love

When loathing turns to love

THE Eixo Monumental in Brazil's capital Brasilia has been the site of massive protests over the past year.

Last year, thousands took to the city's main street to lament the US$11 billion (S$13 billion) cost of hosting the World Cup and to ask why not enough is being done for social issues. In May, a police officer was shot in the leg after clashes with indigenous people armed with bows and arrows.

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Yet, for the past few weeks, the vast boulevard leading to the the Estadio Nacional, one of 12 arenas hosting the World Cup, has been a scene of celebration.

Fans dressed in yellow and green toot on their horns and sing in one voice as they cheer on their team.

Drivers in cars with the Brazilian flag attached to their roof honk as they go by, adding to the merrymaking. In the country's financial hub Sao Paulo, where subway workers went on strike, everything is working like clockwork now, even the Arena de Sao Paulo, which faced a race against time to be ready.

The Copa do Mundo, a dirty word in Portuguese just a month ago, is now greeted with the thumbs-up sign and cheers of Vai Brasil (Go Brazil).

Sentiments about the World Cup, while tentative and lukewarm before, have turned to celebration and joy, because finally the world can see Brazil for what it really is.

"Brazil's problem is not a World Cup problem. Even without the World Cup, we will still have issues of corruption and inadequate money for schools and hospitals," said Luis Ariel Chaves, 32, a bank employee who works in the north-eastern city of Salvador.

"People were just using the World Cup hype to magnify our problems. But they don't realise that there is more benefit to being a gracious host, to show the world that Brazil are a happy people who can put on a good, well-organised show."

Larissa Malta, a 19-year-old medical student, and Gustavo Miranda, a 24-year-old graduate, know exactly how perceptions can change in a matter of days.

The pair work at Belo Horizonte's Tancredo Neves airport, helping out during the World Cup as ambassadors.

Said Miranda: "A guest from India thought we live in the rainforest and walk in bikinis, but now he knows there is more to that." Added Malta: "There is genuine pride among Brazilians, not just for the football team, but that people are enjoying themselves."

Indeed, the world's seventh-largest economy has charmed the one million foreign World Cup visitors.

Said German Dennis Verwold, 33, who has been travelling across the country with his friends: "Brazilians have been nothing but wonderful and friendly. We may not understand each other sometimes, but we still manage to speak with our hands. People talk of it being dangerous, but I was out until 4am one night, and walking around Sao Paulo's streets. It was probably not a wise thing to do, but I survived."

Even the country's under-fire President Dilma Rousseff, whose ratings plummeted in the wake of the World Cup protests, appears to have recovered ahead of October's elections.

Local media said that she can take credit for the change in the mood of Brazilians.

Of course, the success of the Brazilian team has helped. Luiz Felipe Scolari's men take on Colombia today for a place in the World Cup semi-final. The goal is to win a sixth title on July 13.

But even if that does not happen and Brazil are eliminated earlier than expected, Lisandra Paraguassu, a journalist with one of Brazil's biggest dailies, O Estado de S. Paulo, thinks it will not have any adverse effect on the Cup.

Citing a poll showing how more Brazilians now favour the World Cup, rising from 51 per cent to 63 per cent in just one month, she said that the mood is visibly different.

"People have been taken in by the idea of the Cup and not just Brazil winning," she said. "They are proud of making this the best World Cup ever. Not even Brazil losing will change that."


This article was first published on July 4, 2014.
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