• Tue
  • Sep 2, 2014
  • Updated: 1:07pm
Column
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 March, 2014, 10:08pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 March, 2014, 10:14pm

Brazil's party long overdue on international stage

World Cup and Olympic double act will open a window on the roots of one of the most exciting sporting cultures

BIO

Tim Noonan has been crafting uniquely provocative columns for the SCMP and SMP for more than a decade. A native of Canada, he has over 20 years’ experience in Asia and has been a regular contributor to a number of prominent publications, including Time magazine, Forbes, The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune and The Independent.
 

Finally, we can say goodbye to Russia; at least, with the immediate exception of the Paralympics, the world of sports can.

Vladimir Putin waited a second or two until the Olympic movement officially left Sochi before reasserting himself in the Ukraine crisis and the subsequent occupation of the Crimean peninsula.

But all that is for state departments and diplomats and their bevy of sanctions and counter sanctions to sort out.

We are talking a totally different game here. In the games that matter around this part of the paper, the focus has now shifted from the Black Sea out across the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean straight down to South America, most notably Brazil. You will be hearing and seeing more of Brazil in the next two years than you have in your lifetime.

The World Cup countdown is now officially under way with less than 100 days to go before the first ball is kicked into play on June 12 in Sao Paulo with the hosts taking on Croatia.

When the championship match is completed on July 13 in Rio de Janeiro, the city will have all of 750 days to get ready to host the world again at the 2016 summer Olympic Games.

"Don't ever in your life do a World Cup and the Olympic Games at the same time," beleaguered Rio mayor Eduardo Paes said. "This will make your life almost impossible."

Luckily for Paes, he gets to share some of the World Cup grief and stress with the 11 other host cities. Come 2016 it is all Rio and it will be impossible for Paes and his crew to pass the buck. And make no mistake; passing the buck is about to become as synonymous in Brazil as passing the ball.

With a spate of embarrassing delays on stadium construction ... and often violent protests ... the negativity in Brazil has begun to hit fever pitch
Tim Noonan

With a spate of embarrassing delays on stadium construction and a chronic shortage of hotel rooms in cities like Rio as well as constant and often violent protests in the streets over the enormous outlay of money to stage both events, the negativity in Brazil has begun to hit fever pitch. In short, it's a mess. But the truth is it's a beautiful mess, because it is all Brazil's.

After 54 years, the country that has dominated soccer will get to host its showpiece once again and when the Olympic torch is lit two years later it will mark the first time the Games have come to South America.

There will no doubt be logistical and organisational glitches during the events, as there is with any host country.

Still, this is South America's time to shine and it is long overdue. The continent's countries have been shipping their top talent off to Europe for years.

But do you really think these players want to leave Brazil or Argentina to play in Germany or England? They leave Brazil and Argentina to play in Europe because they have to.

It's where the money is and while hosting the World Cup won't necessarily make the domestic leagues in South America any more desirable or lucrative, at the very least the world will finally have a window into the roots of the most successful and poetic soccer culture of modern times.

Quick, how many cities can you name in Brazil? If you are familiar with places like Curitiba, Natal, Recife, Fortaleza and Cuiaba then you are either Brazilian or a geographical savant of epic proportions.

All of these host cities will be getting their first prime-time exposure and personally I can't wait for June 14 when Italy play England in remote Manaus. Not only will this be a match-up of two of the biggest countries in the game, it will also be the first World Cup match played in the rainforest.

This is not London or Rome; it is the Amazonian rainforest of Brazil where access is basically by boat or air. And for all the shameless decisions Fifa makes, the fact the sport's world governing body is actively taking the game to new frontiers is both intoxicating and honourable.

In 2018, the World Cup will be in Russia, and - who knows? - Putin may have annexed half of Europe by then, followed by Qatar in 2022 where they will attempt to host the event while the temperature soars well above 40 degrees Celsius on a daily basis.

But for now it's South America and Brazil's time to shine or to flounder.

Brazil is a country blessed with stunning natural beauty, but cursed with endemic corruption and systemic poverty.

Still, Brazilians are understandably eager to show the world the great strides made in their economy and national infrastructure and, much like Russia last month in Sochi, this will be their official coming-out party.

Good, bad or indifferent, I can't wait. It's long overdue.

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