Brazil Is Somewhat Ready For World Cup; Don't Ask About Qatar

Before Worrying About Scandal Over 2022 Host, Brazilians Want to Get Through 2014 Cup

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Soccer's governing body, FIFA, isn't at all popular in Brazil right now, but it doesn't have much to do with the growing scandal over possible corruption in the decision to award Qatar the 2022 World Cup.

Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro.
Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro.

Brazil has enough scandals of its own, as indignant Brazilians have watched their government sink billions of dollars into soccer stadiums with enormous cost overruns in a country where basic public services like education, safety and health are starved for funds. (In Brazil, marketers' immediate concern seems to be that Brazil actually be ready in time to host games in 12 cities, but sponsors Sony and Adidas are pressing FIFA to investigate the Qatar allegations, revealed in detail by the Sunday Times).

In an unusual move, FIFA President Sepp Blatter and Dilma Rousseff, Brazil's president, are not expected to speak at the opening of the World Cup, when Brazil faces Croatia on June 12 in Sao Paulo's new stadium. That's because a year ago, Mr. Blatter, with Ms. Rousseff at his side, was booed at the opening ceremony for the Confederations Cup that is a dry run for the World Cup.

Customers look at Brazilian themed souvenirs in Sao Paulo, Brazil, during the weekend leading up to the World Cup.
Customers look at Brazilian themed souvenirs in Sao Paulo, Brazil, during the weekend leading up to the World Cup. Credit: Bloomberg

Even now, the mood on the streets isn't a joyously happy one for a soccer-crazed nation about to host the World Cup. Not all of the stadiums in 12 different cities are completely finished—including the one in Sao Paulo where the opening game will be played. Airports and other infrastructure projects are still works in progress -- at one airport, a planned new terminal is a tent. Crime is up, Sao Paulo subway workers went on strike, and taxi drivers snarled traffic with a protest on Wednesday in Rio's beachfront Copacabana, trapping tourists and England's World Cup team bus (in fairness, that was part of an international protest by cab drivers against taxi app Uber).

During past World Cups, streets were painted yellow and green, and pedestrians sported yellow jerseys. This time, not so much. And with a presidential election coming up in September, pollster Ibope found that only 38% of the population would re-elect Ms. Rousseff, who once hoped to ride a successful World Cup to a second presidential term.

In contrast, Brazilians do love the Selecao, as the Brazilian team is called. They support their players, dream of an unprecedented sixth World Cup for Brazil, and will likely grow steadily happier if Brazil wins game after game. To appeal to Brazilians, sponsors tend to focus their ad campaigns on supporting the team and its players, rather than the World Cup itself. And they are busy opening brand experience extravaganzas like the Budweiser Hotel in Copacabana and the Casa Coca-Cola, a four-story mix of product sampling, virtual reality, and a spectacular view of Rio's Maracana stadium.

Brazil has won more World Cup trophies than any other country, but the memory still lingers of the last time Brazil was the host, in 1950, and lost to Uruguay by a single goal in the final game. (World Cup lore has it that FIFA's then-head had prepared his congratulatory remarks for the winning team in Portuguese, never thinking that Spanish-speaking Uruguay might win).

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