Never in recent memory has the interplay of the past and the present been thrown up in so prominent a manner as in this World Cup. With Brazil’s astounding defeat at the hands of the Germans, things that happened in 1934, when Brazil lost in a somewhat similar manner, are beginning to be talked about like they took place yesterday.
Right from the time the cup started or even before, the fear and the nostalgia of 1950, when Brazil lost to Uruguay in the final at home, were in the air. Fear because people apprehended as to what would happen if Brazil did not win the cup, given that there were wide-ranging protests in the country against the $11.5-billion spectacle. Nostalgia, also laced with fear, because Brazil’s 1950 defeat was almost a national tragedy, with a playwright calling it “Our Hiroshima”. Now in the centenary year of the beginning of World War 1, will similar metaphors be coined? Even if they are, they will not have the same emotional intensity. Some Brazilians had said they were supporting Brazil but not the cup. Some even turned against their country.
Sitting in India, it is easy to empathise with the protesting Brazilians. They are talking about jobless growth, low increases in wages, inadequate housing for the poor, displacement of people on account of building activities related to the World Cup, and crony capitalism. After the flood in a place called Teresopolis near Sao Paulo, despite the deaths and devastation, compensation was inadequate and the government became busy with infrastructure activities.
Some questions will come up in a forceful manner and they shall be a factor in deciding the outcome of the Brazilian presidential election later this year or maybe the protests shall be renewed once the BRICS conference gets underway just after the cup. Why was the cost of rebuilding the stadium, Arena de Sao Paulo, owned by Corinthians, a highly popular club of Brazil, allowed to be escalated from $356 million to $513 million? It was done with the blessings of Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff and her predecessor, Lula de Silva. Maybe Brazilian Development Bank, which sanctioned most of the money, will be investigated. The Brazilian government had projected that the cup’s spin-off would be nearly 4 million jobs. How many have been created? The cup was supposed to have produced an ‘impact’ of about 0.4% of GDP. Materially, what difference has that made to the life of an ordinary Brazilian? Rousseff might be thinking all these questions could have gone by the board had Brazil won the cup. Not so easy, however.
The folly lies in making immediate comparisons. Brazil’s fondness for football has been undiminished since 1950. But dissecting that broad fact into a series of pictures does not tell even a partial story. What is forgotten is Brazil has other things to think about apart from football. The mystique of Pelé wearing off is perhaps proof of that.