Le very big sigh. Recently, the vice-president of the International Olympic Committee called Rio de Janeiro’s preparations for the 2016 Olympic Games as the “worst ever,” fueling rumors that the Games could even be held in London or Moscow. For anyone intimately familiar with Brazil – and I’m not talking about spending a week on Ipanema – this comes as no big surprise. In fact, when Rio was awarded the Games back in 2009, I wrote about my own trepidation at Rio’s readiness. Back then, the signs were clear: institutional corruption, lack of organization, and inadequate long-term planning threatened to dog the project from its inception, just as these things tarnished the legacy of the 2007 Pan-American Games, also held in Rio. In 2010, when I taught high school in Brasília, the students answered my concerns about Brazil’s ability to host big events with a cocky “South Africa did it, so we don’t have anything to worry about.” Oh, dear.
I’m sure the organizers of the World Cup are feeling like they dodged a bullet, but for the past several years, FIFA – the governing body of the international soccer tournament – has been warning Brazil about its cost-overruns, construction delays, and safety issues. In fact, I was in São Paulo at the end of April and saw very little preparation at Brazil’s largest, most congested, technologically impaired airport. English is still rarely spoken by taxi drivers and prices for food and services are still astronomical, with little improvement in quality. The Cup will happen, but this mega-event will be the world’s funnest fiasco; only the extreme affability of Brazilians – and their unparalleled fanaticism for futebol – will salvage it.
In the meantime, protests against corruption and the lack of basic citizen services, as well as the ongoing low-scale street war happening in Rio – and it is a war – call attention to the fact that, unfortunately, Brazil is just not ready. It could have been, in another decade or so and with a cadre of politicians and business leaders serious about Brazil’s socio-economic advancement. But public money continues to get funneled into offshore bank accounts, private companies continue to gouge consumers with shitty products at high prices, and the government and ruling classes continue to be content with a large, permanent underclass without access to decent health care and education.
I have a deep and abiding love for Brazil. Never in any other place have I felt as welcome and as embraced – claimed. But it’s from this love that I find myself disappointed and angry. My biggest fear – that Brazil will be monumentally embarrassed by the failure to successfully execute these endeavors – is coming true. And as with most injustices, the people who have the very least to do with this whole mess will suffer the most for it.
God, I just wish I wasn’t right about Rio.
For captivating, on-the-ground dispatches from Brazil, check out the English-language blogs From Brazil, published by São Paulo’s largest daily and edited/written by several crack journalist friends of mine in SP and RJ, and Andrew Downie’s Brazil Blog, written by a foul-mouthed Scot.