In the end, Brazil was a lot of fun, and the World Cup was a blast. As if it would be otherwise. The country threw a great party.
That said, neither the Brazilian system nor FIFA made it easy for us.
The people on the ground were terrific. The locals were warm and helpful. In Manaus, we only had to stand on the street corner for a few minutes squinting at street signs for someone to approach and ask if we spoke English or Spanish and offer to help. People were generally friendly and in a terrific mood (thank goodness Brazil kept winning while we were there, right?)
The fans were great as well. There were tons of Americans, well, everywhere. We met fellow Washingtonians while game watching in the main square in downtown Manaus, and then saw our plane mates from the Miami to Manaus flight at the game in Belo Horizonte a week later.
The entire country was a costume party. It was acceptable to wear your jersey – any country’s jersey, but particularly the bright yellow Brazil – anywhere. To work, to run errands, at restaurants, anywhere. And you could wear it in various forms. There was the fan in the American flag speedo and the guy who had American flag underwear turned head gear of sorts. Then there was the Pope, Landon Donovan, Uncle Sam and all sorts of others.
We didn’t encounter any scary fans – although the sight of several thousand people in Brazil jerseys drinking Brahma and eating meat on a stick at 9:30 in the morning waiting for the stadium gates …. well, at 9:30 am all was good, but at 5 post-game, now that’s potentially scarier.
The logistics were solid, despite all the pre-Cup horror stories. Everything was well-organized, with clear directional signage in the subways and the pedestrian areas clearly marked. Besides, you could just follow the yellow clad hordes.
So back to Brazil and FIFA. What was the issue? Greed.
Sure, it’s no different from any other big event like this. The difference? FIFA and Brazil don’t even try to cover up with a veneer of respectability.
Example: As we took the subway to the quarterfinal game in Salvador, we were told that the subway has taken 14 years to build, and they only opened this one section 2 days before the World Cup started. It’s still in a test phase, so not yet open to the general public, only available for game use. Wonder where all that money went for 13+ years …
That was typical. Everywhere you encountered bureaucracy, you were being fleeced.
Take hotel rooms. For months, there were stories about hotel shortages. There were basically none to be had. So we went to FIFA, one of the few places to have blocks of rooms. Surprise, the rooms are dives. Surprise number two, they want you to pay a premium. Now is the poor overworked front desk guy making two or three times as much money as he usually does? I doubt it. But I bet that FIFA netted a nice profit, as did the hotel chain.
And then there’s this story about FIFA refusing to support conservation of the three-banded armadillo, their ubiquitous mascot Fuleco. The entire program costs $12M, which is a drop in the bucket when you look at how much money FIFA will make off Fuleco merchandise. Sounds like FIFA has the same PR person as Dan Snyder …
But despite all that, Brazil was a terrific trip!