World Cup 2014: Riots, strikes and traffic jams cloud Sao Paulo's big kick-off

City gripped by serious political problems rather than football fever

Sao Paulo

“The whole world is cheering in Sao Paulo” reads the first World Cup banner to greet those arriving in Brazil’s business capital for a month-long football carnival. It did not take long for that notion to be reduced to dust yesterday.

Beyond the first few Neymar posters dotting the fringes of Guarulhos airport – the striker is on so many of them in Brazil that they call it “Neymarketing” – lay the tip of the tailback which reduced the city to a very desperate form of gridlock. It was the fifth day of the metro workers’ strike, presenting the local TV networks with a novel statistic: the total length of Sao Paulo traffic jams.

By 9.30am it was a 170km (106-mile) matrix of gridlock, rendering the city’s motorists immobile and keeping the police force busy three days before Brazil kick off the tournament against Croatia here. Officers pointed guns at protesters, threatening to achieve with rubber bullets what tear gas had not entirely accomplished as workers took to the streets in their hundreds. News footage captured the evidence of a dismal night: an overturned bus in flames, smashed shop windows. This is not how the World Cup kick-off was meant to be.

Good luck to the government officials who must try to bring this strike to an end by Thursday or risk the opening day being one of the most chaotic we have known. The metro workers are asking for a 20 per cent pay rise. Employers at the state-owned network are offering 8 per cent. This story and its consequences enveloped the broadcast bulletins, with the Brazil team’s impending football business limited to the frilly story of how an eight-year-old boy had run on to the pitch during their training session and been adopted by Neymar and Co after the guards had tried to throw him out.

Football is struggling to be heard in many ways. This country might be desperate to win the World Cup after Uruguay stole it away when the tournament was last staged here 64 years ago, but it feels no debt of gratitude to Fifa for giving them the opportunity to stage the event.

You might have expected the Sao Paulo papers to be awash with blanket coverage of Luiz Felipe Scolari’s team – the tactics, the opponents, the hopes, the girlfriends – but it is the lack of all that which is most striking. With a mere 72 hours to go, this tournament’s greatest value seems to be the outlet it provides for expression of the wrongs and ills which prevail in the country nearly 30 years after the fall of the military dictatorship.

Poverty is a part of the discontent, complicated as it is in this vast city by the sense of a growing alienation between the even more penniless north of the country and Sao Paulo, the place to which northerners once flocked to find work. There were plenty of people around to tell you yesterday that those up north now stay “in their beds” when the bolsa familia social security is handed out.

However, it is what they call the “disappearing money” which people most detest – the kickbacks, the fraudulent billing, the payments for favours given. Those with a sense of perspective about how the city is lagging behind say that endemic corruption is at the root of everything. “The money’s gone into back hands instead of roads and infrastructure,” said one taxi driver yesterday morning. They even have an expression for the concept here – rouba, mas faz (roughly, “It’s OK to steal if you get things done”).

Everyone knows that the “disappearing money” has been lost without trace in football, too. There is an incredible sense of consistency for people between the stories of Fifa delegates allegedly taking secret payments that helped Qatar win the 2022 World Cup and the prosaic reality of day-to-day life in their own country. For many Brazilians, Sepp Blatter seems to epitomise all the men – the cartelas or “top hats” to use the pejorative term – who have run domestic football into the ground here.

The corruption is the reason why democracy has earned a bad name among even some well-educated people. “When we had the [military] dictatorship, we had more things for the people,” said one. “I know those days could be brutal but if you were upstanding there were no problems. In the democracy, people are helping themselves to what they want.”

Get Adobe Flash player

As officials have helped themselves to a little money here, a little there, the prospect of Brazil doing its reputation some good by staging this World Cup is turning to dust before the eyes of the people. Everywhere you looked last night there was evidence of the last-ditch scramble to get the Arena Corinthians ready: scaffolded walkways, graffiti no one has had time to paint out and taped-off areas deemed unsafe to pass beyond. The ground would also not meet British safety standards as organisers have not tested it at anywhere near full capacity.

Brazilians wait with bated breath – not so much to see if their country can walk away with the trophy as to discover if it can get away with staging this event.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
The data shows that the number of “unlawfully” large infant classes has doubled in the last 12 months alone
i100Mike Stuchbery, a teacher in Great Yarmouth, said he received abuse
Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online
Rio Ferdinand returns for QPR
sportRio Ferdinand returns from his three-game suspension today

Watch the spoof Thanksgiving segment filmed for Live!
Billy Twelvetrees will start for England against Australia tomorrow with Owen Farrell dropping to the bench
rugbyEngland need a victory against Australia today
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of The Guest Cat – expect to see it everywhere
Tyson Fury poses outside the Imperial War Museum in south London ahead of his fight against Dereck Chisora
All British heavyweight clash gets underway on Saturday night
i100 Charity collates series of videos that show acts of kindness to animals
Arts and Entertainment
One of the installations in the Reiner Ruthenbeck exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery
artCritics defend Reiner Ruthenbeck's 'Overturned Furniture'
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game