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World Cup Makes Brazilians Crazy, But Soccer's Not To Blame


Switching gears now - let's talk World Cup. Every four years, people around the world tune into the same thing at the same time over the same four weeks. They're watching the World Cup. This year's tournament will be held in Brazil, and the first match between Brazil and Croatia is just six days away.

Although the games start next week, the tournament has been getting much attention for what's going on outside the huge soccer stadiums around the country, which is huge demonstrations, as well as what's going on inside those stadiums because some still are not ready. And a transit strike started in Sao Paulo on Thursday.

NPR South America correspondent, Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, is in Brazil, and she's been following the lead up to the tournament and all that's going on inside and outside the stadiums. And she's with us now from Sao Paulo. Lourdes, thanks so much for joining us.


MARTIN: Now, it seems like every big international event in recent years, there have been complaints and concerns. But these seem as massive as the tournament itself. I mean, we've been hearing that construction of stadiums and airports and even cell phone networks for all the people coming in to watch the games might not be ready. Is this true or not?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I think it is true. I think it's been pretty glaring what's been happening here. And I think for those of us who live in Brazil, it's not surprising because the cell phone networks have never been particularly good, and the banking system hasn't been great if you have foreign cards. And so all these things that are now getting a lot of scrutiny have been sort of facts of daily life for Brazilians and ex-pats who live here for a long time.

Certainly though, the big news is what's happening at the stadiums, outside the stadiums as you mentioned. Things are just not ready, and it's really chaotic. I mean, just here today in Sao Paulo, Brazil's largest city, the place where the World Cup will literally kick off next week, we're seeing a strike by metro workers, which has paralyzed the city's transportation. So we're just epic traffic jams. Busses are overcrowded. We've even seen soccer's governing body, FIFA, officials taking three hours to get to their hotels from the airport. So it's even tough for people at the top, right now.

MARTIN: How long should it take to get to the airport?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It depends where you're going, but from the airport to the center of the city, it should take about 45 minutes to an hour. So that's triple - what we're seeing. It's really, really bad out there today.

MARTIN: So is there a plan for dealing with the transportation? How are they going - it's conceivable that teams couldn't get to the stadiums on time for their matches. What are they going to do?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We've had strikes pretty consistently for the past few months. People realize this is the time to pretty much shake down the government. And it's been successful.

The federal police, after threatening to strike during the World Cup, got a 16 percent raise. Bus drivers got a 10 percent raise. So we are expecting that the Metro workers will also be given a raise because, certainly, the government does not want the main way people are going to get to the stadium here in Sao Paulo to be shut down.

So we are expecting that some deal will be reached, but the Metro workers are standing firm. People are thinking that it's kind of Christmas come early, here. People are really using the World Cup to get to some of the things that they've wanted for some time from the government.

MARTIN: Is there a sense of - that this is going to be helpful thing for the economy?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That is such a big question. I think that's something that's racking, you know, host countries all over the world because it's a subject of great debate. Do these mega sporting events actually bring the benefits that people say that they do? Is there going to be an influx of tourist dollars? Absolutely. Is there going to be money spent here? Absolutely. But will that offset the massive cost?

This is the most expensive World Cup ever staged. We are seeing an economy that is stagnant right now, as you mentioned. There's going to be less than 2 percent growth - it's forecasted this year. Prices are really high. Inflation is over 6 percent. People are very unhappy.

And will the World Cup give that a boost? I mean, it's only a month of spending, and they've just overspent on these stadiums and on these infrastructure projects. And so people are saying, hey, at the end of the day, is it really worth it for us to come and host - to have been the host of this event? A lot of people are coming down on the side saying no.

MARTIN: I want to hear more about the mood. First of all, I think most people who fallow the sport know that Brazil is soccer mad. They are dominant...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Crazy, crazy.

MARTIN: ...Soccer crazy. They're dominant in the sport. Oh, I was trying to be classy about it. That's why I said, soccer mad. But they're dominant in the sport. They're expected to do well. Are people excited about that aspect of it, or is all these other issues, you know the spending, the disruption - is that taking a damper off people's feelings about this?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: A lot of people talk about the schizophrenic mood of Brazil right now. So on the one hand, you know you have all these people who, of course, love their national team, once the ball gets rolling, will be behind Brazil 110 percent. But I don't think that that does take away from the fact that people are upset about what's happened here. And there's many reasons for that.

Certainly, they are embarrassed by the fact that on the world stage now, this was supposed to be a big shining moment for Brazil. It was supposed to be the moment where Brazil showed that it could be a member of the global community and it was right up there with developed nations. And in fact, what's happen is that the glaring inequality here, the inefficiencies here have really come to the forefront.

So many of the people that I've spoken to say they do feel ashamed and their mood is not terribly bright. We saw a recent poll that showed that 70 percent of people feel the country is going in the wrong direction. Sixty percent of people now feel that hosting the World Cup was a mistake. Those are pretty big numbers.

MARTIN: Speaking of which, speaking of numbers, Brazil has a presidential election coming up in October. Do you think...


MARTIN: ...That these next few weeks will have an impact on how those elections proceed our candidates, for example, taking, using what's going on with World Cup as part of their campaigns?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Absolutely. Everyone says that this is going to have massive repercussions. I mean, this is a huge moment for the government. If everything goes well, people say, it will be a boost for Dilma Rousseff and her reelection campaign. If it goes badly, they say, it could go very badly for her at the polls come October. Right now, in a recent poll, we've seen her numbers going down from 37 percent approval rating to 34 percent approval rating. Those are pretty dismal numbers. The mood here is not very happy.

MARTIN: Lourdes, before we let you go, can I ask you why are these stadium so expensive? I mean, you reported, for example, that the Corinthians Arena, which is where the opening match will be played - it's in Sao Paulo. it's going to be handed over to the football club after the games are over. But you reported that cost $450 million. Why?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: They're magnificent. They're sort of really gorgeous places to go and watch a football match. But ultimately they're just stadiums. I think that's what's behind a lot of the protest. People say, why. And of course, the will be an accounting at the end, but delays, cost overruns because of striking workers and having to give them more money, inflation. Everyone feels there was a lot of corruption here involved in these stadiums because they shouldn't have cost this much.

MARTIN: Lourdes Garcia-Navarro is NPR's South America correspondent. She was with us from Sao Paulo, Brazil. Lourdes, thanks so much for keeping us up-to-date.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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