Legacy is a much-abused word when it comes to international sporting events. Every World Cup or Olympic Games has to have a legacy – improved transport infrastructure, urban regeneration, investment in schools and sport. These are the so-called legacies trumpeted beforehand – the dubious evidence wheeled out every time anyone asks whether billions of dollars couldn’t be spent on something other than a sporting jamboree. The real legacies can be judged only much later – for Montréal it’s a tax bill that took decades to pay off; for South Africa expensive stadiums that nobody uses.
For Brazil, there is no simple narrative. Cities like Cuiabá have welcomed the investment that would never have come without the World Cup. But elsewhere, as protestors have made clear in the run-up to the tournament if not during the past few weeks, it is less clear-cut. Too much has been wasted on too little.
The truest legacy for the hosts of an international sporting event is mental not physical. National identity not national infrastructure. And it is internal not external.
The rest of the world doesn’t matter. The only legacy that matters is how you feel about your country. The 2012 summer Olympics in London meant far more to Britons than to anyone else. We finally worked out who we were, a stop-start process that had taken the best part of seven decades. We retain giddy memories of the opening ceremony, a celebration of what it means to be British, mixed with the strange sensation that we can sometimes be quite good at sport.
Brazil’s legacy, so far, is a series of questions. Has the World Cup made Brazilians more comfortable in their national identity? The emotional bellowing of the national anthem before matches suggests so. Less willing to rely upon a single saviour? The deifying of Neymar and the nationals team’s traumatic collapse without him suggests not. It has highlighted problems – the hideous whiteness of the crowds showed the sharp racial divide that still exists; the refusal to hold a minute’s silence for those killed in Belo Horizonte – will this lead to debate about the divide between rich and poor? Between races?
There is one other possible legacy, one I raise quietly, given the circumstances: should Brazil take football quite so seriously? The famed Maracanazo incident, Brazil’s defeat in the final of the 1950 World Cup, which plunged the country into such deep depression, is – let’s be honest – ridiculous. They were runners-up in a World Cup – most countries would love to fail like that. Likewise, as shocking as the defeat to Germany was, Brazil has yet again reached the semi-final of the World Cup. Brazil is still pretty good at football – and historically it remains, without doubt, the best.
If there is a crisis in Brazil it is off the pitch not on it. That realisation would be the greatest legacy this World Cup could have.
Steve Bloomfield is foreign editor for Monocle