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Brazilians question World Cup spending

06 June 2014


Another pitch: vultures perch on goalposts at a football ground in the Mare slum area of Rio de Janeiro

Another pitch: vultures perch on goalposts at a football ground in the Mare slum area of Rio de Janeiro

NEXT week marks the beginning of the World Cup in Brazil. But while millions of football fans are finishing their sticker albums and digging out old jerseys for the occasion, Christians in Brazil are preparing for both the good and the bad of the festival of football.

Despite the imminent arrival of the world's biggest stars, many Brazilians are angry at the cost of the tournament, which culminated in widespread demonstrations last year at the warm-up event, the Confederations Cup.

The Revd Nicholas Wheeler, a priest in the diocese of Rio de Janeiro in the Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil, said this week that his congregation in the notorious slum area the City of God favela  had misgivings about the tournament.

"Even in a football-crazy nation like Brazil, there is not quite the fever that you would expect, just over a week to go before kick-off.

"The term World Cup implies a tournament for everyone, but that has not been the expectation here. There is a lot of dissatisfaction that so much money has been spent on this tournament, when people don't have decent education, health-care, or security."

The atmosphere was one of apprehension rather than jubilation, he said. People did not know whether the arrival of international media focus would lead to more protests and strikes, which have already caused huge disruption to Mr Wheeler's parishioners' lives.

The Revd Ben Phillips, chaplain in the English-speaking Christ Church in Rio de Janeiro, agreed. He said: "The anticipation has got a little bit political. It's complicated because Brazilians love the football, but a lot of people are quite outraged at the cost of it."

There was work to be done, however, to prepare for the influx of thousands of tourists and fans, he said. "We have lots of guests working with the consulate to make sure we are ready to provide charity assistance for expats who get into difficulties. We are ready to welcome fans and players to come and worship with us."

In an attempt to piggyback on the tournament, a new video by Alpha Brazil, Alpha na Copa, has been launched to inspire fans to consider the Christian faith. A minibus will be touring the country during the event, parking alongside churches to show the film and encourage conversations about faith.

For Mr Wheeler, connecting with international fans was less of a priority. Given his area's reputation, he said he did not expect many foreign visitors. "We are engaging with the World Cup in different ways. We are trying to encourage our congregation to express their opinions on what they have seen happen over the last two years [in the country's preparations]. We think that is a significant thing for the Church to be doing."

They were also planning a parish barbecue for the day of the final, and would watch the match together, he said. "Hopefully, with Brazil being one of the teams, and the other being England."  

One of the concerns is that there will be a boom in sex tourism and people-trafficking because of the fans flocking to Brazil. An international campaign, "It's A Penalty", has been launched by anti-trafficking charities to protect Brazilian children from sexual exploitation during the World Cup.

The campaign, which has been endorsed by the England manager Roy Hodgson, urges fans to phone in if they see evidence of exploitation.

Mr Phillips said that he had heard fears of a rise in trafficking, although Mr Wheeler said he believed it was more of a problem in the north-east of Brazil rather than in Rio de Janeiro.

"I think we have to ask big questions about the impact of these events, especially on countries that are new to the game. I think Brazilians have paid a big price," he said.

"But, at the end of the day, Brazilians know how to party, and if someone is willing to give us extra bank holidays, we will make the best use of them."

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