When Brazil won the contest to host the 2014 World Cup and Rio de Janeiro was awarded the 2016 Olympics, the decisions conveyed a twofold message.
First was the hope that, as with the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and Euro 2012, hosted by Poland and Ukraine, the promise of a world spotlight would spur improvements in sporting facilities and infrastructure that would stand the country in good stead. The second amounted to a nod towards Brazil’s growing significance as a major emerging economy – along with Russia, India and China.
So now these global events are set to travel to Latin America for the first time. In the light of the unrest over recent weeks, however, it would be fair to say that the effect has not been quite as intended. A decision to raise bus fares in Rio and Sao Paulo to help fund the new facilities prompted angry demonstrations, which rapidly spread to other cities. And the demands of the protesters soon escalated to include a better social safety net, less corruption, less inequality, punishment for police brutality and less extravagance connected with the World Cup. The restoration of civic peace will now require more than the U-turn on bus fares.
It is entirely possible that national pride will win the day, the facilities – for the football and the Olympics – will be built in time, and everyone will have a whale of a time in Rio. But the discontent unleashed by the World Cup preparations contains a warning. Brazil is not unique among the Bric countries in experiencing an economic downturn or having a government that cannot keep pace with the rapidly rising expectations of the population. It is not only football fans heading for Brazil who may be in for a bumpy ride; would-be investors, too, would be well advised to strap in.