By Ed Freeman
March 11, 2014
2014, the year we’ve all been waiting for; the year we proudly reveal to the world’s hungry eyes how this great nation is primed for growth and prosperity. How we have grabbed this unique opportunity to showcase our founding premise of order and progress and play host to the world. So, please, come on in and make yourself at home, and get ready for the biggest entertainment spectacle on the planet, welcome to The FIFA World Cup Brazil 2014.
Well, that was the prescript anyway; the reality is somewhat less celebratory. As Brazil attempts to dust off the riot rubble of public protest that plagued much of 2013, we can now, as the final countdown begins, expect the all too familiar pre-tournament press bashing to intensify.
Such journalistic interrogation has become oh so predictable in recent years, with the BRICS, the much celebrated quintet of emerging powerhouses grabbing most of the damning accolades. China hosted the 2008 Olympic Games and were branded heavy handed for their rigorous media censorship, whilst the success of the FIFA World Cup 2010 in South Africa was overcast by a cloud of corruption and scandal. More recently India haplessly staged The Commonwealth Games in 2010, during which very little escaped vehement criticism, and, at the time of writing, Russia is trying to defrost the icy reception it has received from the world’s media at the Winter Olympics 2014 in Sochi.
The result, irrespective of sporting achievement, is always the same; the host nation never wins. In fact, I have heard very little by way of sporting coverage from Sochi, only that the city has an abundance of stray dogs and hotel sanitation is not to be taken for granted. Understandably Brazil, if you will excuse the pun, is bricking it.
Some might deem this level of scrutiny unjust but a FIFA World Cup, despite appearances, has very little to do with football. Of course, there’s the obligatory fanfare of any global sporting contest, but the real prize is the international spotlight that it affords the host. Brazil has long been dubbed a sleeping giant, a source of unanimous frustration for its people, so FIFA’s unchallenged decision to award them the Copa back in 2007 was seen as the perfect alarm call. It was a chance to unify a nation, a chance to invest in the future. A chance to establish worldwide credibility and debunk any conceited first world misconceptions. Obviously the football fanatics of Brazil expect their cherished seleão” to lift the trophy for a record sixth time, but there is far more to play for this time. A nation expects, and rightly so.
Despite this bravado, one stereotype that Brazil seems hell-bent on preserving is her over reliance on last minute resolution. This rather laissez faire attitude to planning is not without its charm, the unwavering faith that “tudo vai dar certo” (quite literally, everything will work out) is wonderfully comforting, but perhaps this is not the stage to test the limits of such emboldened optimism.
Inevitably preparations are, according to popular tabloid taunt, woefully behind schedule. The planned infrastructure, from stadiums to hotels, has been dogged by delay, deception and even death. The airports have already hogged the headlines this year, with Guarulhos International ranking No.1 in CNN Travel’s Top 10 Worst Airports in the World, along with Forbes shattering statistic that only 59% of flights in Brazil arrive on schedule. With six years to prepare for this moment, you might ask why we are inviting the world’s media to snigger and sneer at our systematic failings before they’ve even been cleared for (delayed) landing.
Most journalistic jeer comes from a source close to my heart, the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) which, for all its credibility and mite, is often the first to stick in the proverbial knife. A BBC correspondent is never far away from comment and a FIFA World Cup in a developing country is literary manor from heaven for these column crusaders.
Which is ironic, actually, given that domestic news is handled in a distinctly different manner. The news in the UK is often tailored, perhaps even manipulated, in a way that seeks to provide a more balanced, healthy outlook. Seemingly the “Beeb”, as it is affectionately known in Britain, recognizes its role as an intermediary to the national psyche, a parental portal of “need to know” information.
The absolute opposite is true in Brazil, where news crews have adopted a more Americanized approach to live broadcasting. Wherever there’s action, there’s a fully mobilized crew on hand to sensationalize, the often trivial. But there are the less mundane happenings too that are given the same sensationalist treatment, and this only serves to perpetuate the real societal issues that threaten to unhinge this year’s event.
Most news coverage in São Paulo ought to come with an advisory rating; the daily occurrence of serious crime – murder, robbery and worse – is terrifying. It would be foolhardy for one to assume that the UK does not suffer from similar ills, criminality is after all a distinctly human pastime, but the difference is nobody, including the BBC, talks about it. Discretion is also an exclusively human quality.
At some point someone decided, wisely, to keep quiet about domestic dirt and opted to throw mud at foreign entities instead, forming the World Service. And when things get a little heavy on the domestic front, they just roll out a nice fluffy story about a cat that learned to skateboard; sweet dreams, Britain.
No such comfort for Brazil, with only a few months before kickoff the nightmare could soon be stark reality; Brazil 2014 is very much a damage limitation exercise now. The World Cup that so many had dreamt of, the one that would give birth to a new Brazil for future generations is, at best, unlikely.
Brazil must play to its strengths, however, and celebrate the vibrancy of its culture. There will be traffic, there will be airport delays, but at least there will also be the infectious Brazilian spirit to get the party started and that, journos and editors alike, is something well worth sensationalizing. “