Will FIFA Take the Brazilian Passion out of the World Cup?

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Will FIFA Take the Brazilian Passion out of the World Cup?
DOUGLAS ENGLE/Associated Press

Ask someone for their immediate ideas on Brazilian culture and their mind's eye is likely to span across three images.

Sand, samba and soccer, that final prong of the cultural fork, at the present time at least, being the most relevant aspect. Certainly, when I moved here permanently in May 2010, I had next month's World Cup in my sights as a potential orgy of joy, celebration and expression.

Today, we are exactly a fortnight from the world's biggest sport tournament returning to the most successful participants in its 84-year history. But walk the streets of Rio de Janeiro and you would be hard pressed to find indications of a World Cup tournament on the verge of kick-off.

There is little colour, no decorations, flags or music, scant sign that this edition will be different because o jogo bonito has returned to its spiritual home following a 64-year hiatus.

Of course, the hosting of this World Cup has been accompanied by a plethora of political issues, stirred up during the Confederations Cup, which have never gone away.

Eraldo Peres/Associated Press
Protests continue in the run-up to the World Cup.

Protests against the government have continued—last Tuesday crowds gathered in Rio and Brasilia—but how much of the passion being drained from the World Cup can be blamed on FIFA?

World football's governing body has not escaped the wrath of those taking to the streets, with objections that some of their policies stretch beyond the confounds of organising the sporting tournament and have left some seriously bewildered, not to mention out of pocket.

The easiest place to find gripes with FIFA is the phenomenally high prices. Tickets for group games start at $90, which, at an exchange rate of 2.25, translates to a little over 200 Brazilian reais.

Given that the minimum wage in Brazil remains at 724 Brazilian reais ($321), it would be nigh-on impossible for vast portions of Brazilian society to treat a family to a World Cup experience.

On Tuesday, Brazilian sports daily Lance! published the prices FIFA will charge inside stadiums for snacks and drinks.

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A hot dog will cost double its street price, a can of beer four times as much. It appears to many that FIFA are stamping on the little man to line their own pockets.

It is of course a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and for that reason the high prices for World Cup tickets are understandable. It is therefore likely, that, as during previous World Cup tournaments, the party will be taken to the streets, the people's love affair with football exhibited openly for all to see.

Alzirao, so called because of its location on Rua Alzira Brandao, is arguably the biggest World Cup-themed street festival in Rio. Described as akin to a Carnival held every four years, tens of thousands gather in the neighbourhood of Tijuca to watch the Selecao on a big screen.

This year, the event is under threat. FIFA threatened event organisers against the “improper use of the image” of the World Cup, and asked for almost $12,500 for permission for the event to go ahead, as reported by news site G1 (link in Portuguese).

FIFA will have their own Fan Fest big screens erected on Copacabana beach in Rio, and across all 12 host cities, with the exception of Recife. The city's government cancelled the event for security issues, as reported by Reuters

FIFA's control of commerce is also killing what for many they thought would be a lucrative time for them.

On any given match day in the Brazilian league, the streets surrounding the Maracana are alive with colour and noise.

Natacha Pisarenko/Associated Press
Beer will only be available inside the stadium on World Cup matchdays.

While that does not necessarily mean a full house, the thousands of supporters milling around before kick-off are enticed by street hawkers of every description, offering flags, replica shirts, snacks and cans of beer.

The FIFA experience promises to be far more mundane. For there will be no street vendors, pushed out of work during what would surely be the most lucrative month of their lives (link in Portuguese).

Instead, FIFA are in the process of opening a shop on the east side of the stadium, where eager fans can get their official World Cup goodies.

It is an enormous pity. In a country where football is more than a pastime and can define a way of life, those who love it are being shut out from the financial benefits of hosting the competition, not to mention denying tourists a genuine Brazilian matchday experience.

Is the World Cup for everyone? That is a question for FIFA.

The fans, meanwhile—those who make this corner of the world famous for its football fanaticism—are having their unique brand of passion drained.

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Brazil (National Football)

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