Brazil’s World Cup Begins

Finally, after a great buildup, the 2014 World Cup of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, hosted by Brazil, that ultimate fútbol-playing country, begins on Thursday. The first game will be between Brazil and Croatia, at a stadium in São Paulo whose construction was still being finished this week and which has never held a capacity crowd. There is great expectation for fútbol fans, and a great media frenzy, too, with much attention focussed on Brazil’s supposed lack of preparedness for the tournament, its badly built new roads and bridges, its corruption and favelas and the lack of security of Brazil’s cities, and so forth, on and on.

It is excruciating to watch this full-glare inquisition. It feels unseemly. Brazil is a big, uneven, still-developing country that, paradoxically, most of us love from afar and romanticize unequivocally most of the time (aaah, Ipanema, Rio, Ronaldinho, Gisele Bündchen, samba!, and so forth).
Brazil’s World Cup Begins
Everything that has been said about Brazil’s shortcomings as a host may be true, but they are also true when hundreds of thousands of foreign tourists are welcomed to Brazil, year after year, to celebrate its Carnaval, to travel around its big, beautiful country, to enjoy its beaches and its backwoods—and yet somehow its lack of sufficient infrastructure, its violence, and its corruption are not inhibiting factors.

So what’s different now? This is not Putin’s Russia, where a megalomaniac gangster who has hijacked a state has spent fifty billion dollars for the purposes of self-aggrandizement. This is Brazil, the country everyone celebrated when it won the right to host this World Cup, and the next Olympics, too. This is the Brazil of the great beloved Pelé, and he was there, ecstatically hugging Lula, the bearded, wily left-winger who was President when Brazil was announced as the 2016 site. There were no serious questions, as there have been since Qatar was awarded the 2022 World Cup, about whether Brazil had bought its bid with bribes to sports officials. Brazil and fútbol are synonymous. When Brazil won, it seemed right to everyone, and it still should.

Most Brazilians are poor and learn to play fútbol in vacant lots in crowded cities, or else in unadorned grassy squares in little rural towns without paved roads. They do so well and unstintingly that some of them go on to play with the best teams in the world; they have helped lead their country to World Cup triumph five times since 1958.

A Brazilian friend in São Paulo called me today. She wanted to know what I thought about all the criticism of Brazil. After a long preamble, in which she acknowledged that her government was not perfect, that the police were corrupt and her countrymen were maybe not as prepared as they should be for the great contest they were about to host, she said, “In spite of everything, I still think we Brazilians can do something that’s good, and that people will enjoy this Cup. Don’t you?”

I told her that I did, and I do. Long live Brazil. And now, the World Cup 2014.
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