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.

News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Sport
Colombia's James Rodriguez celebrates one of his goals during the FIFA World Cup 2014 round of 16 match between Colombia and Uruguay at the Estadio do Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Travel
Fair trade: the idea of honesty boxes relies on people paying their way
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
News
news
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary