Right Field: Brazil, you put on a great party
Fallout from devastating defeat and the reality of a debt-laden legacy should not completely hide the tournament's positives
This will likely be no consolation for a totally forlorn and devastated country, but Brazil nailed this World Cup. On the most superficial level, at least, this was a beautiful event. From the bevy of gleaming, ultra modern stadiums with their rabid and festive ambience to the exotic beaches and teeming bars, this is truly what a happening looks like.
The Brazilian government and Fifa gambled that the civil strife and backlash that had beset the largely impoverished country over the absurd amount of public funds used to host the event would subside, at least temporarily, once the competition started. And they were right; the country became consumed with not only the action on the pitch but also with showing the world how great a place Brazil is. Come tomorrow after the last ball has been kicked in the final between Germany and Argentina, the country can look back with pride on a job well done. But they won't, not in any way, shape or form. The recriminations of losing 7-1 to Germany in the semi-finals will likely linger for two or three lifetimes. This will be the country's enduring legacy of hosting the 2014 World Cup.
Well, at least it will be from a psychological perspective. From a financial and practical perspective, the enduring legacy will be a mountain of debt and a number of stunning stadiums in remote locales like Manaus, Cuiaba and Natal that will decay before their eyes as a testament to future generations of the one moment when Brazil dared to be great. Fifa has a very demanding and lavish set of criteria for potential World Cup hosts. The cost is exorbitant. But even by that lofty standard, Brazil did pretty much everything that was asked of them. Again, the fallout looks to be toxic and many pundits are now speculating it could take down the Brazilian economy much like hosting the 2004 summer Olympics did to Greece.
However, just on results and performance alone, Brazil did what was asked, which was no small feat considering the high drama and anticipatory dread leading up to the event. Now Brazil knows what South Africa knew after hosting the 2010 World Cup. For one month all the eyes of the world are upon you; it's exposure on an unequalled level. Once the party ends, though, the bills are due and there is a massive mess to clean up. Meanwhile, Fifa, easily one of the most odious organisations on the planet, is on the first plane out of town with more money then they can count. According to Forbes, Fifa took in US$4 billion in revenue for the event while claiming US$2 billion in profit. It cost the government of Brazil US$11.3 billion in public works spending coupled with US$3.6 billion on new and refurbished stadiums.
Fifa likes to tell you the bottom line is not always the bottom line and the host country gets to leave their imprint on the world for one month. So after raptly watching the country of Brazil for the last 30 days, what do we know now that we did not know before? Well, they certainly like to cry. Man, do they like to wail and nowhere more than the players on their beloved national team. For some stouter, more seasoned Brazilians it was all too much. "The team is crying when they're singing the anthem, when they get hurt, when they shoot penalties," said the captain of the 1970 World Cup-winning team, Carlos Alberto. "Enough! stop crying!"
We also found out that in today's version of football, where superior athletes of the highest level of fitness can be found even on the worst teams, Brazil's blend of poetic beauty and endless movement is a thing of the past. The game is a grind now, space is at a premium. There was never a single moment in the tournament where you went, wow - Brazil! Minus Neymar's transcendent talent in the semi-finals, they were exposed as painfully plodding and uninspiring. Now that may be worth crying about.
We also learned that despite being a largely impoverished country, there are indeed many rich people in Brazil and most, not surprisingly, are white as surveys of the crowds at games showed. So in that respect, Brazil is very much like the rest of the developed world. And yet it is also uniquely diverse. Who else has hosted a World Cup match in the heart of the rainforest? The world can move on now and leave Brazil to deal with what looks like a very contentious and expensive fallout from this event. But thanks are still due. Whatever else this event was, as a made for TV spectacle it was still a hell of a party.