/ 5 June 2014

Built on false promises and haunted by broken dreams

Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro
Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro

From the apartment blocks at the Rua Consolheiro Olegario in the neighbourhood of Tijuca, you can get a glimpse of Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana stadium, the venue for the World Cup final. Nadyr Dissat (89), with sheeny white hair and an upright back, lives here.

On a mild Sunday in the winter of 1950, she took a train from her home in Egenho Novo, a neighbourhood further north in Rio, to the Maracana, a colossal spaceship-like construction. Her cousin had bought tickets for the World Cup final between Brazil and Uruguay. They took mortadella sandwiches with them.

Dissat worked in the military’s administration. Football left her pretty much indifferent. In the previous games, Brazil had trashed Sweden and Spain, 7-1 and 6-1 respectively, and the hosts merely needed a draw to win the coveted Jules Rimet trophy.

The vociferous fans entered the Maracana in high spirits, chanting and singing. They were certain of victory. Dissat would later see Frank Sinatra and Pope John Paul II at the stadium, but never would the Maracana be that packed again. Fifa’s official match report shows an attendance of 173 850, but that day nearly 200 000 fans passed through the turnstiles.

From high up in the stands, Dissat watched the drama unfold. First Juan Schiaffino equalised and then Uruguayan captain Alcides Ghiggia scored to give Uruguay a 2-1 victory. The pregame euphoria of the overconfident Brazilians turned into a profound sadness.

Playwright Nelson Rodrigues coined the defeat “our Hiroshima”. “The Maracanazo has a significance that transcends Brazilian football,” explained Juca Kfouri, Brazil’s prime football criticaster, who constantly torments the Brazilian Football Association, the Brazilian government and Fifa.

Mutt complex
“The Maracanazo has a significance in Brazilian history. Rodrigues called it the complexo de vita lata [the mutt complex], a moment in which Brazilians felt incompetent to do anything. Brazilians felt useless. The World Cup was hosted and organised to win at home. Brazil could have drawn, might have won, but ended up losing.”

The final was supposed to be a reflection of Brazil as the “land of the future”, but Uruguay dealt the Brazilian nation a crushing blow. Today, the debate about Brazil as a society will not rage inside the stadiums. Mikkel Jensen, a Danish journalist, who studied Brazilian history, based himself in Brazil to make a documentary about the build-up to the big kick-off, but in April he went back home.

In downtown Fortaleza, a northeastern city in Brazil, Jensen met streets kids in front of the local McDonalds. Death squads, who used to operate in Rio de Janeiro until the 1990s, chased the kids to clean up the image of the city for the arrival of the international media.

For Jensen, this was a tipping point. “A big black car showed up and was shooting at the children in their sleep,” said Jensen in a Skype interview. “The question is why is this happening? It is not the image McDonalds and the World Cup want to show. The more I was meeting these street children, the more I could potentially harm them.”

Jensen’s work showed an unpleasant and truthful aspect of Brazilian society – the errors in policy priorities and the megalomania of hosting the World Cup in 12 host cities. There will be a World Cup inside the state-of-the-art venues and a World Cup outside those stadiums.

One of those stadiums is the Arena de São Paulo in Itaquera, part of the eastern zone of the Paulista megalopolis. The arena has a capacity of 61 606 and will host five games, including the opening game and a semifinal. But Itaquera is home to one of the lowest income groups, has one of the highest crime rates and few employment opportunities in São Paulo.

Public funds
The costs of the stadiums have spiralled out of control: the main “stakeholders” Lula da Silva, Brazil’s former president, Marcelo Odebrecht, a giant in Brazilian construction, Gilberto Kassab, São Paulo’s former mayor, Luciano Coutinho, president of BNDES banks and Andres Sanchez, Corinthians’ former president, caused the bill for the stadium to increase from a provisional $356-million to $513-million.

The majority of the invested money, however, comes from public funds: the city of São Paulo gave Corinthians a tax break of $184-million. The federal government, through the federal economic bank and BNDES bank, loaned the rest after pressure from President Dilma Rousseff. Corinthians, Brazil’s second biggest club with an estimated 30-million fans, now has it very own football-specific stadium, but at a very high cost.

Geraldo Campestrini, the president of the Brazilian Association for Management and Sport, believes the retention of income, the gentrification and the impetus for trade and local tourism will benefit the local community, if the stadium is managed well.

Kfouri disagrees vehemently. “They say that a football stadium brings progression to the area where it is built,” he said. “You don’t have to go very far to see that the thesis is a lie. Go to the Olympic stadium in Rio and look at what progression it has brought for Egenho, go to Soccer City in Johannesburg and look at what progression the stadium has brought for Soweto. Football stadiums don’t bring prosperity.”

Back in Rio de Janeiro, Dissat has no such concerns. After the Maracanazo, she never went to watch a football game again until last year when she attended Italy vs Mexico, the first game the Maracana hosted during the Fifa Confederations Cup. Dissat likes the renovated Maracana.

Yet she won’t be going to a World Cup match. Dissat will root for Brazil. “I think Brazil will win,” she said with a smile. If Dissat’s prediction becomes reality, Brazil will finally have exorcised the demons of 1950.