Brazil World Cup countdown: Strikes, stickers and stadiums

As the ‘Copa’ approaches in Brazil, Gary Meenaghan reports from the country that the buzz is growing. Only it is coming from outside of the footballing venues.
Even as Brazil misses out on deadlines for June’s World Cup, various strata of the population are locked down in protests. Sebastiao Moreira / EPA
Even as Brazil misses out on deadlines for June’s World Cup, various strata of the population are locked down in protests. Sebastiao Moreira / EPA

As provisional World Cup squads have trickled out this week, so too have flags, signposts and other paraphernalia around Brazilian cities.

With 27 days to go until the opening match takes place in Sao Paulo between the hosts and Croatia, the buzz is quickly building, even if the same cannot be said of the country’s stadiums, of which three remain under construction.

Streets are lined with yellow and green ribbons. Restaurants and bars are beginning to decorate their interiors with the national flags of the 32 qualified teams – and, in the case of one Sao Paulo cafe, the flag of Togo too.

English-language signposts are also popping up in host city metro stations directing tourists to stadiums and Fifa fan zones.

In several shopping malls, temporary exhibitions display memorabilia and photographs from previous tournaments, and even as many Brazilians so far refuse to fully surrender themselves to the excitement of football’s grandest showpiece arriving on their shores, several have surrendered themselves to the addictive pursuit of trying to complete a Panini sticker album. (If anybody needs Honduras’s Jorge Claros and has Didier Drogba to swap, get in touch).

Strikes

Another sure sign the “Copa” is closing in, is the number of strikes either taking place or threatening to take place.

Arriving back in Sao Paulo from Manaus on Tuesday afternoon, it was not possible to take the airport bus to its usual stop at Avenida Paulista because of a protest by municipal teachers. In Rio de Janeiro, 60 per cent of the city’s privately run bus fleet is currently paralysed by union strikes.

The striking bus drivers are demanding a 40 per cent pay raise, which would take their monthly salary to R$2,500 (Dh4,157). While it was reported that not every driver agrees with the strike, fear of reprisal attacks meant many stayed at home. O Dia, a Rio-based daily newspaper, ran a photo of one driver wearing a fake beard and glasses while going about his job.

Yet, this is no laughing matter. As well as bus companies, staffers at banks, the subway, airlines and even the Federal Police are threatening to strike. When the state police in Salvador, one of Brazil’s 12 host cities, downed tools for two days last month, the result was a spate of violent crimes, including at least 39 homicides.

Stadiums

Not surprisingly, the stadiums are proving a focal point. Arena Corinthians, the over-budget and under-constructed venue for next month’s opening match, was yesterday the site of a protest march by people displaced by World Cup projects.

The demonstrators burnt tyres, made rallying cries and called for the government to provide housing and better healthcare.

The leader threatened that if their demands are not met, there will be more problems during the tournament.

The march coincided with the final inspection of the stadium by Brazilian officials before it is officially handed over to Fifa on Monday. After that, it becomes Fifa territory and even the Brazilian government must request access if they wish to enter.

Before then though, on Sunday, it will host its first – and possibly only – Fifa-standard test event, a local league match between Corinthians and Figueirense.

With temporary seating structures continuing to be constructed, only 40,000 of the proposed 65,000 seats will be available.

Manaus

There are concerns also about the readiness of stadiums in Curitiba and Cuiaba, as well as Porto Alegre, but in Manaus last Sunday, the Arena da Amazonia appeared almost fully operational during a Copa do Brasil match.

The hospitality suites remained unfurnished and there was no turnstile system in place, but the 20,000 fans who turned out to watch local side Princesa dos Solimoes take on Santos were able to enjoy the match without issue.

A week earlier, it hosted a sold-out crowd when Corinthians played Nacional-AM.

Manaus has endured a bad rap since being drawn as host city for England’s opening tie against Italy. British newspapers have regularly written scathing reports about the isolated jungle city, citing everything from the city’s high murder rate to the threat of rabid street dogs.

Make no mistake, the city has an edge, but no more than most big cities and with common sense and an open mind, Manaus has potential to be one of the most engaging and enlightening hosts in Brazil.

And the street dogs, of which there were few, proved friendly.

Rough justice.

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

Follow us on Twitter at SprtNationalUAE

Published: May 15, 2014 04:00 AM

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