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“When similar accidents occurred in the UK, in France, in Russia, in China before hosting major global events and the same questioning or the same scepticism was not directed against those countries: so that is a prejudiced point of view from our perspective,” Mr Fernandes said, tapping into Brazilian irritation at criticism from abroad.
While his argument did not completely make sense – after all, Russia and China are also developing countries – the deputy minister raised some interesting questions.
Should developing countries be in the business of hosting and helping to finance expensive international sporting events, such as the Olympics and the World Cup, when they have so much else on their plates in terms of improving public services?
And do others have the right to question or criticise countries’ preparations for games or does this just amount to north-south chauvinism or ugly neocolonial prejudice?
The answer to the first question should depend on whether the public of the host country, rich or poor, wholeheartedly supports the idea of hosting the event. How taxpayers’ money is spent should be their choice, after all. In Brazil’s case, it seems many voters were in favour in 2007 when the country won the right to stage the World Cup.
A new lower middle-class has emerged and begun to demand better government services. There is a perception that money is being wasted on the World Cup, especially in the form of corruption, when people want more spending on hospitals and schools.
To counter this backlash, the Brazilian government will have to do a better job of selling the benefits of staging the events. Part of the supposed upside is infrastructure – Brazil has unveiled several flagship projects to coincide with the World Cup, including two major airport terminals and a new dedicated rapid bus transit line in Rio de Janeiro.
The other purported benefit is to use the events to market Brazil to the outside world. But Brazil’s tardiness in preparing the stadiums for the World Cup has led to vocal criticism from Fifa, soccer’s organising body, and a lot of unflattering coverage in the international media.
If there is one lesson from staging a World Cup or Olympics, it is that the host country will invite an unusual amount of outside scrutiny. The Kiss nightclub fire in Santa Maria occurred after the unauthorised use of fireworks within the venue. The club was also alleged to have had inadequate safety procedures and exits in place. It would seem only natural that such an incident would invite more general concern abroad about safety standards at venues in Brazil.
London’s preparations for the summer Olympics in 2012 were criticised by no less than the Republican candidate for the US presidency, Mitt Romney, although he later tried to retract his comments. Or witness the hammering Qatar is already taking over the 2022 World Cup.
International critics have a tendency to overlook cultural conditions. Brazil, for instance, has a culture of improvisation and getting things done at the last minute, Mr Fernandes said. The preparations may look chaotic but all will turn out fine in the end, he argues.
That may be so but when you are inviting the world to visit, an uncomfortable measure of scrutiny is only to be expected. Football, on and off the field, is no place for the thin-skinned.
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