Support Brazil, Dilma Rousseff tells nation in recorded speech
Country's president, against a backdrop of countless protests, asks her people to rally behind the team and back the tournament
Brazil's president has taken to the prime-time airwaves to deliver a pre-recorded speech to try to rally the nation behind the World Cup, which has stoked countless protests from those angered by the billions spent on the event opening early tomorrow morning (Hong Kong time).
President Dilma Rousseff rebuked the "pessimists" who are against the Cup, saying they have already lost. She called on all Brazilians to support the national team regardless of their political persuasion or whether they fully agree with hosting the event.
Rousseff also defended the US$11.5 billion spent on the Cup. Three out of every four Brazilians polled say they are convinced corruption has tinged the myriad works related to it.
An investigation earlier this year found that big construction firms responsible for building the bulk of the stadiums, roads and other works had dramatically increased their campaign contributions since Brazil was named host of the tournament.
Much of that money was funnelled to Rousseff's ruling Workers' Party, though spending also went to the opposition.
In one case, top builder Andrade Gutierrez, which has helped build or renovate four stadiums, raised campaign contributions 500-fold from one election to the next after it was determined which 12 cities would host matches.
That stoked anger and increased suspicions over collusion between politicians and the big builders - especially after reports from government auditors began to surface, indicating massive cost overruns along with allegations of price-gouging, principally in the building of stadiums. For instance, the cost of the stadium in Brasilia, a city with no major professional soccer team, has nearly tripled to US$900 million from original price estimates published by the government.
"Have no doubt, the accounts of the Cup are being meticulously analysed by auditing agencies," Rousseff said.
"If there exists any irregularity, those responsible will receive the maximum punishment."
About half of Brazilians polled have said they are against even hosting the World Cup and the mood is mixed about the event hours before it starts. That was once unthinkable for a nation that embodies soccer like no other, the country that has won the World Cup a record five times.
However, many Cup watchers also think that if the Brazilian team gets on a roll and starts winning, the mood could quickly pivot and the nation could show the world a celebration worthy of its international reputation as a land of free-wheeling festivals and easy going, friendly people.
"I'm certain that in the 12 host cities, visitors are going to mix with a happy, generous and hospitable people, and be impressed by a nation full of natural beauty and which fights each day to become more equal," she said, referring to the sharp drops in poverty that Brazil has seen in the past decade under Workers' Party leadership.
Rousseff said that "for any nation, organising a Cup is like taking part in a tough - and many times painful - game".
The leader rebuked those who argue Brazil has spent too much on the Cup, saying that since 2010 the government has spent more than 200 times what it invested in stadiums on education and health care systems.