Tuesday, 10 June 2014

World Cup Eve

Twas the night before World Cup and all through the land,
Not a creature was stirring, except for the hundreds of thousands of foreigners and locals waiting for the Cup to start...

Since Brazil won the right to host the 2014 FIFA World Cup in October of 2014, millions of people throughout the globe have been looking forward to it getting under way, and we're now just one day from kick off.

When hosts Brazil kick off against Croatia at 5pm tomorrow afternoon it will start a month long celebration of the biggest sport in the world and dominate news media the world over – hopefully for the right reasons.

It hasn't all been smooth sailing for the organisation of the big event, with many locals angry at the money being spent on building stadiums and infrastructure that may not benefit the citizens in the long run. There's been strikes, riots and plenty of public outcry from people who feel bullied by the world governing body, FIFA, who stand to make millions out of their showcase tournament, while the people of Brazil will be left to pick up the tab.

John Oliver's take on FIFA

There has also been problems and delays in building the stadiums, with one stadium partially collapsing in November of last year and some other installations still not completed.

While I've been fortunate to steer clear of any serious issues so far, I was a victim of the metro strike in Sao Paulo when I arrived in Brazil's largest city. With two of the lines closed, what should have been a straight forward journey to my hostel took over three hours and no fewer than six changes from bus to metro and back. Having travelled on the city's overcrowded system for a few days now it is hard to see how it will handle the extra capacity brought in by the World Cup.

One of Sao Paulo's busier metro stations

It may sound like the whole thing has become a bit of a downer, but I can tell you it's anything but. While there are certainly people not happy with how the World Cup has affected them, the overwhelming vibe in Rio and Sao Paulo (where I have been so far) has been positive.

There's a constant stream of people – both local and foreign – walking around the city in their chosen team's shirt, while throwing some friendly banter around. I personally, seem to have met every one of the thousands of Dutch fans that are in the country to see their country play against the Socceroos in Porto Alegre on the 18th. Everywhere you go you see people in differing coloured shirts having a beer and a laugh with each other. I even appeared in a Brazilian national magazine alongside a bunch of fans from other countries – all just as stoked as each other to be here and share what is sure to be a once in a lifetime experience. If that can be maintained throughout the tournament itself, hopefully all of the problems will be forgotten.

Croatia fans in full voice in Sao Paulo ahead of their match against Brazil

That's not to say we should forget the plight of the locals who feel they've been left out. While in Sao Paulo, I've been fortunate enough to stay with an NGO that has decided to boost their fund-raising by renting out some of the rooms in the house their volunteers and staff share. As part of my stay here, I was able to visit the school in a nearby favela where children who would otherwise be doing nothing on the streets are able to take part in various fun and educational activities. Seeing where these kids come from, and how they can thrive when given the chance, opens the eyes of travelling gringos like me and others who will be coming through over the next month. If we can help support organisations like this that do amazing work, as well as spend our money at local establishments and stores, then maybe we can help leave something good behind for the people of Brazil.

Many nationalities coming together for the cup

Ok, so it may seem like I'm clutching at straws but here's the thing: We all want this to be a great thing. The hundreds of thousands of foreigners that are anticipating that kick off tomorrow are all coming with the expectation of this being a trip of a lifetime, and for most it will be. While we may not be able to do much about the negative side of the Cup, all we can do is do our best and try not to dwell on it. We are, after all, here for football, not to make the world a better place.

It would just be nice if we could at least not make it a worse place.  

Bring on the football! 

Previous World Cup coverage on Long Road To Rio 

Arriving in Rio - June 4

My Addiction - December 4

That Goal - July 23

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