Big spending and construction chaos deflates Brazilian joy over World Cup


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JUDY WOODRUFF: Seven years after Brazil was awarded the right to host the World Cup, matches are finally ready to kick off tomorrow in the world’s most widely-watched sporting event, with perhaps more than three billion viewers over the next month.

But hosting soccer’s top event is no longer just a simple matter of pride for many Brazilians.

Jeffrey Brown has the story.

JEFFREY BROWN: The 32 national teams are tuning up. Fans are beginning to party. But for many Brazilians, the joys of hosting, and seeking the country’s sixth world title, have been greatly diminished since the heady day in 2007 when FIFA, soccer’s international organizing body, awarded Brazil the World Cup.

SEPP BLATTER, President, FIFA: FIFA’s World Cup 2014 to the country Brazil.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

JEFFREY BROWN: The chief reason: sticker shock. Brazil is spending $15 billion to host the celebration of what Brazilians call the joga bonito, the beautiful game, but that has led to recriminations: Thousands of poor Brazilians were relocated from their homes in slums, called favelas.

The government has denied charges that the displacements were to make way for World Cup building projects, and for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. Major construction problems have led to deaths of workers at still-unfinished venues and transpiration hub points.

One died just this past Monday night when a section of monorail collapsed. And some projects slated for the World Cup were barely begun, then scrapped. In the meantime, protests have been launched, and strikes were mounted by transit workers and others around Brazil against what many see as money wasted.

At a march on Monday, a teacher in Rio spoke for many:

MARIA DE LURDES FONSECA, Teacher (through interpreter): Our country needs to invest in health care, education, public transportation and culture, not in stadiums, not in airports. We need public goods that go to the people, not FIFA, not to tourists. We want investments that stay here.

JEFFREY BROWN: The protests are nothing new, however: A dry run for the World Cup in Brazil last year was met with sometimes violent clashes in the streets over these same issues.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who is up for reelection this fall, took to the airwaves yesterday and made her case.

PRESIDENT DILMA ROUSSEFF, Brazil (through interpreter): There are people who claim the resources for the Cup should have been directed to health care and education. I hear and respect those opinions, but I don’t agree with them. From 2010 until 2013, the federal, state and municipal governments invested about $762 billion in education and health care, 212 times more than the amount invested in stadiums.

JEFFREY BROWN: Brazilian authorities say more than 150,000 police and military will secure the month-long tournament held across 12 Brazilian cities, but with only one-third of the country convinced the Cup will ultimately benefit Brazil, success on the field may not be enough, this time, to keep soccer-mad Brazilians satisfied.

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