Early in April, the now former Governor of São Paulo Geraldo Alckmin inaugurated a metro line connecting São Paulo’s city center to the international airport of Guarulhos, on its outskirts. The line was supposed to have become operational in time for Brazil’s 2014 World Cup. Instead, it took four extra years and an additional BRL 101 million to get it done.
This is just one example of how football’s main event didn’t leave such a lasting legacy on Brazil, despite the authorities claiming it would.
When Brazil was chosen as the host country for the 2014 World Cup, it was seen as proof that the country had finally made it. We were strengthening our soft power and were regarded as one of the world’s most important countries. Plus, the World Cup would leave a much-needed “legacy,” as public administrations would finally carry out infrastructure, transportation and sanitation projects which should have been done decades ago.
“It was a disaster. On the pitch, we experienced Brazil’s worst pounding in history [the 7-1 defeat to Germany in the semifinals]. Off it, we built eight white elephants – all overpriced -, which only served to turn football into a pastime of the elite, and most of the infrastructure projects that were promised were not finished,” says Juca Kfouri, one of Brazil’s most respected sports pundits.
The World Cup in Brazil cost almost four times as much as South Africa’s, in 2010, (BRL 33 billion against BRL 8.6 billion) but was still cheaper than Russia’s (estimated at BRL 38.5 billion). Mr. Kfouri thinks that the choice of such countries – as well as Qatar 2022 – is no coincidence: “These are young democracies – or not democracies at all, in Qatar’s case – which lack social control and face many corruption scandals.”
High-priced white elephants
Brazil’s most famous stadium, the Maracanã needed to be renovated before the 2014 World Cup, and what happened was appalling. The stadium cost BRL 1.28 billion (current values) in public over, 50 percent above the original budget. Two investigators later explained why: former Governor Sérgio Cabral allegedly received 5 percent of the contract in bribes. All with the blessing of the State Accounts Court, an audit tribunal to scrutinize public spending. Its judges also received a cut.
Not even in football terms did the Maracanã leave a positive legacy. Once the “biggest stadium in the world” (in 1969, Maracanã saw almost 200,000 people attend Brazil v. Paraguay, in the World Cup qualifiers), it has become a venue that is too expensive for both teams and fans. Facing higher rental prices (over BRL 1 million), teams have risen their ticket prices, which has pushed away lower-income supporters. The result is half-empty venues that fail to provide teams with much-needed revenue.
The Maracanã, however, is by no means the worst example. Cities such as Manaus, Brasília, Natal, and Cuiabá hosted matches, and they built new state-of-the-art stadiums despite not having local football teams worthy of the name. The case of Manaus was perhaps among the worst: the BRL 805 million stadium has 44,351 seats, but local teams bring average crowds of just 800 per game.
A stadium like Manaus’s is extremely expensive and unfit for the Amazon rainforest. The local climate causes the structure to deteriorate faster, which demands constant maintenance. At one point, local authorities thought of using the site to build a prison. In 2016, the venue hosted a Christmas market.
Infrastructure projects remain unfinished
Today, Russia and Saudi Arabia face off in what promises to be the worst World Cup opening match in history, as described by Statista. But as the 2018 World Cup gets underway, in Brazil there are still 41 unfinished infrastructure projects which were promised for the 2014 event.
Data from states, municipal administrations, and Brazil’s Comptroller-General’s Office show that these projects, mostly related to transportation, are either ongoing, or have been paralyzed, or even abandoned altogether.
In the city of Belo Horizonte, the expansion of Confins Airport has yet to be finished. The mayor’s office has also not been able to complete the construction of bus lanes to boost public transportation in the city.
In the nation’s capital Brasília, the light rail vehicle that would span 22.6 kilometers and give residents a much-needed public transportation option in a city that lacks them, was never built. Brasília is a UNESCO heritage site and, as the project would alter the city’s urban plan, institutes dedicated to the protection of public heritage embargoed the project.
No city, however, is as behind schedule as Cuiabá, in the Center-Western state of Mato Grosso. One-quarter of all delayed projects are there. The city’s light rail project has already consumed BRL 1.06 billion and, four years after the World Cup, only 30 percent of the undertaking has been completed.
On and off the pitch, the World Cup left a sour taste in Brazilians’ mouths. No wonder 53 percent of Brazilians say they don’t care about the tournament anymore.