World Cup woes of Olympic proportions

World Cup woes of Olympic proportions
The Christ the Redeemer statue overlooking Rio's Maracana Stadium, where the 2014 World Cup final will be played.

When former Brazil president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva proudly held the World Cup trophy aloft in 2007, a nation roared. Brazil did not win the World Cup that October afternoon in Zurich, as Mr Sepp Blatter, president of football's world governing body Fifa, handed over the gold trophy.

But in securing the rights for the 2014 tournament, euphoric scenes, once reserved only for each of Brazil's five World Cup victories, erupted all over the country.

In Rio, 50 climbers scaled the famous Sugarloaf Mountain and hung a 50m-by-50m jersey that read "The 2014 World Cup Is Ours". In the jungle city of Manaus, merry-makers celebrated the country's first hosting of the World Cup since 1950 by waving flags and dancing outside the main opera house.

Football was returning to its spiritual home, to the land of the Beautiful Game and it was hard for a Brazilian not to feel proud.

Yet, with the 2014 World Cup kick-off on June 12 just days away, the mood in Brazil could not be more different.

Just about a fortnight ago, the Brazil national team, so often the revered symbol of Brazilian greatness, saw their team bus punched and kicked by protesters on the first day of the team's training camp.

It was the latest in a series of very public displays of unhappiness over the US$11 billion (S$13.8 billion) it will cost to host the World Cup.

Last June, more than one million people took to the streets in cities across Brazil in the country's biggest protests in 20 years. Sparked by bus fare hikes, protesters also denounced the high bill for the football tournament, while pointing out that not enough is being spent on municipal infrastructure such as schools and hospitals.

Graffiti across the street from the Pedro Ernesto hospital, just a stone's throw from Rio's iconic Maracana Stadium, read: "Tourists: Don't get sick. We have stadiums but we don't have hospitals."

The world is watching with trepidation as Brazil is not just hosting the World Cup, but also the Olympic Games in Rio in 2016 - essentially the globe's two biggest sporting events in the space of two years.

Five years ago, when Rio was awarded the Olympics, close to 100 per cent of Brazilians backed the hosting of the Games. Today, almost the opposite is true.

In 2007, eight in 10 Brazilians were in favour of the World Cup. Today, only five in 10 welcome the event, while more than half of the 200 million population think it will harm, not benefit, the economy.

Already-simmering sentiments were not helped when a member of Brazil's World Cup organising committee gave her controversial take two weeks ago on the state of affairs in the lead-up to the tournament.

"I want the World Cup to go off as well as possible," wrote Joana Havelange, the daughter of the powerful former Brazilian Football Confederation chief Ricardo Teixeira, on her Instagram profile.

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