27 June - 3 July 2014 #713

America's cup

Latin Americans are having a ball in Brazil
Shobhan Saxena RIO DE JANEIRO

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff had promised that the World Cup in Brazil would be the Copa da Copas (Cup of Cups). Her political rivals scoffed at her for using the Cup as an election campaign. Civil society activists condemned her for being insensitive, left-wing extremists promised to spread chaos during the tournament and drug gangs warned the government to be prepared for terror.

Even as foreign teams had started arriving in Brazilian cities, it looked like the games would be a disaster. Some fans cancelled their visits amidst media reports of stadiums not ready, airports in chaos, crime, street protests.

But half-way into the tournament, the mood had changed. Even the most ardent critics of the Brazilian government and World Cup organisers have already declared it a success. A survey showed more than 72 per cent of Brazilians support the tournament. Another survey of foreign journalists showed most had a ‘positive and favourable’ image of Brazil because of its people who are ‘warm and friendly’.

One reason is that the games have been exhilarating. With teams like Spain, Italy, England and Portugal all set to go home after the group matches and small nations like Costa Rica, Colombia, Uruguay and Chile progressing to the next round, this World Cup has become a graveyard of European football. Suddenly names like Xavi, Iniesta, Rooney, Gerrard, Pirlo and Ronaldo have lost their magic, and the world is in love with Ruiz, Duarte, Suarez.

For Latin America this World Cup has become a home tournament. After Brazil and US, the highest number of tickets have been bought by the Argentinians (78,000), Colombians (60,000) and Chileans (45,000) and other Latin American countries. “It’s a sign of our growing economies and the rise of middle class that so many people have travelled to Brazil. Earlier, it was not possible,” says Jose Marin, a teacher from Buenos Aires. 

Though the European challenge is still alive with teams like Germany, Holland and France, the spirit is completely Latin American, with all countries of the region supporting each other during the games with European and other teams.  “It’s nice to see all South Americans backing each other. It really is a cup for all of South America,” says Sara Faleiro, a writer and journalist. “We are re-discovering our football, culture and roots.”

Of more than 600,000 foreign travelers in Brazil these days, close to 30 per cent have come from Brazil’s neighbouring countries. At home in the weather in Brazil, the South Americans are just having a ball. Socrates, the late Brazilian football legend called the Doctor, was equally at home on the pitch as well as politics. He once said: “It’s not about winning. It’s not about who scores how many goals. Football is all about joy.” 

Shobhan Saxena is a journalist and visiting professor at University of Sao Paulo. Nepali Times will carry his exclusive column for the duration of the World Cup.

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Brazil’s own goals, Matt Slaughter and Janna Remes