After years of preparation, hard work, sweat and tears, the end has come. There have been highs and lows, protests and celebrations, and some surprises that none, least of all those at the centre of it all, could have expected. The 2014 World Cup came to an end with its closing match yesterday, Sunday 13 July.
During the past four weeks the public and international press have largely forgotten about the protest movement that swept up the middle class, poor public-sector workers and students, with essential services postponed by strike action in São Paolo and other major cities. The dust is yet to settle in Brazil but there are many who will be quick to ask what will remain when the tourists and teams depart.
Until the eve of the first game, the protestors called for better education, health and public services instead of new stadiums. Why should Brazil host both this tournament and the 2016 Olympics when growth has been sluggish and inequality, despite improvement under Dilma Rousseff, is still the major concern for those growing up in Brazil? If the protestors’ fears are realised, new stadiums will stand as looming monuments to the lavish expenditure of this the most expensive World Cup, costing $11bn (€8bn).
Manaus’s theatre to the beautiful game cost $270m (€198) to develop, hosted four matches during the tournament and has no local team to use it afterwards. The Amazon can welcome another species to its wildlife: the hulking white elephant. So what has the host nation gained?
One trade-credit insurance business, Euler Hermes, reckons Brazil’s GDP will rise 1.8 per cent in 2014 thanks to both the World Cup and the impending Olympics. Infrastructure projects and development have brought with them investment and jobs but they are short-term gains; the bigger picture is one of mass public debt that will squeeze growth for years. At the start of the tournament the stock market had grown nearly 11 per cent over the past 12 months but factor in the huge loss of 24 per cent it suffered in 2013 and you realise Brazil is making gains on already lost ground.
Despite the pre-tournament preparatory problems, the tournament was well run. If an efficiently organised World Cup projects a stable and confident nation, open for business and welcoming international investment, President Rousseff might still feel the benefits come the elections this autumn – despite the pounding the Selecao received at the hands of the Germans.
If the spotlight on Brazil this last year – and indeed until 2016 – forces the government to push through structural reforms to reduce inequality and invest in public services, the nation can thank the protestors who rallied and cried for change, not the government and certainly not Fifa’s tournament. While one chapter of Brazil’s history has ended and preparations for 2016 take over, the government must learn from the mistakes of this brilliant yet costly tournament to ensure lasting positive change for the nation.
Aled John is a producer for Monocle 24.