World Cup 2014: What now for the 'venue of venues' that hosted Netherlands vs Spain and Tim Howard's heroics?

Salvador hosted the Dutch destruction of the reigning champions and Belgium vs United States, but now the World Cup has left Simon Hart asks if there will be any legacy

Had things worked out differently, Salvador’s Arena Fonte Nova could have provided us with the backing track to the 2014 World Cup. The Brazilian musician Carlinhos Brown is a son of the north-eastern city and, inspired by the impact of the South African vuvuzela, he devised a plastic instrument called the caxirola for fans to create a distinctive sound at World Cup matches. The plan was aborted, however, when fans started chucking the instruments at players during a Bahia-Vitoria derby last year.

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Even without the ill-fated caxirola, the Fonte Nova has made a big noise at this World Cup. “The venue of venues” is how the local A Tarde newspaper described it on Sunday and with some justification: it was here that the Dutch thrashed Spain  5-1 to set the tone for a high-scoring tournament. After goalfests from Germany and France too, by the end of the group stage it was, briefly, the highest-scoring World Cup venue since St Jakob-Park, Basel, in 1954. Since then the Fonte Nova has gone from goals to goalkeepers, with Tim Howard’s “Superman” act for the US against Belgium, followed by Tim Krul’s supersub turn in the Netherlands’ shoot-out win over Costa Rica.

Netherlands' substitute goalkeeper Tim Krul celebrates after saving two penalties in the shootout victory over Costa Rica Netherlands' substitute goalkeeper Tim Krul celebrates after saving two penalties in the shootout victory over Costa Rica  

It has been thrilling entertainment but, as the dust settles, the question now is just what have the people of Brazil’s third-biggest city got out of it? Salvador has a tram system which, after 14 years in the making, was opened by President Dilma Rousseff on 11 June – albeit still not quite finished. There is a wonderful, public-funded football stadium in the centre of the city – a new home for Esporte Club Bahia, Salvador’s biggest club – replacing the old Fonte Nova where five people died when part of the stand collapsed in 2007. The derelict walkway from the historic district of Pelourinho to the stadium has been spruced up. And according to the city’s chamber of commerce, the World Cup sparked a 5 per cent increase in business.

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Yet anecdotal evidence suggests the biggest feeling among Salvador’s populace – Soteropolitanos – is a mixture of relief and pleasant surprise: after the riots that marred the Confederations Cup and all the pessimistic headlines, it was actually all right on the night. “People were happy as they were afraid the World Cup would be an embarrassment,” says Luiz Teles, a columnist for A Tarde.

That said, conversations with locals bring up recurring gripes – the word corruption is never too far from people’s tongues. There is a sense here too, as elsewhere around the country, that the World Cup has merely accentuated Brazil’s huge social divisions. Nelson Barros, press officer at EC Bahia complains about the sudden gentrification of the game: “We had stadiums and now we have arenas.”

Robin van Persie scores a header in the Netherlands' 5-1 victory over Spain Robin van Persie scores a header in the Netherlands' 5-1 victory over Spain  

On Sunday evening I spent time with a couple, both doctors in their thirties, who complained about the prohibitive cost of World Cup tickets. One of their relatives had just paid 750 reals (£200) to watch the Netherland-Costa Rica game – a huge sum compared to the 30 it costs to attend a league fixture, and more than the minimum wage of 724 a month. (Hence the scarcity of black faces at matches here in the Afro-Brazilian capital.) The conversation moved away from football to day-to-day difficulties: such as a recent call to arrange a stomach scan for their young daughter and the shock of hearing they would have to wait until next year for an appointment.

The mantra that “the World Cup is not for the people” is repeated by Ruy Pavan, as he stands on the beach of the working-class Boca do Rio district. There are three sandy football pitches and a group of schoolchildren is being put through some training drills as part of the Festival de Bola, a World Cup project sponsored by the German government. When Germany played Portugal, Chancellor Angela Merkel visited this scheme, which caters for more than 150 youngsters aged from seven to 17 and comes with life lessons attached. Nine-year-old Naiane has learnt about respecting the environment. Erick, 13, has seen that girls can play good football too.

 

Pavan is involved with the programme as part of the NGO, Fazer Acontecer (Make Happen). Once a Unicef employee, he works with 4,000 children from poor neighbourhoods in Salvador and the surrounding Bahia region and complains about the lack of opportunities and facilities for the disadvantaged to play sport,  particularly in schools. He cites the fact that Salvador – a city of three million people – has not one public swimming pool. Hence Fazer Acontecer’s attempts to get them “playing and learning together”, combining sport with education.

The classes on the Boca do Rio beach will stop when the World Cup ends unless organisers can obtain additional funding from the German government. Rosane Lacerda, the project’s technical coordinator, adds: “We can’t change lives in a short time. To change their lives, you need to change the reality.” And that, whatever Fifa’s  slogans may say, lies beyond the brilliant bubble of the World Cup.

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