Boom or Bust? Brazilians Divided over World Cup
The World Cup is the biggest sporting even in the world and it kicks off Thursday in Brazil. The host country hoped it would bring a big economic boost, but locals have been sharply divided, with many saying it was a big mistake.
In the months leading up to the 2014 World Cup, disenchanted Brazilians organized regular protests across the country.
Their main complaint: Brazil wasted $11 billion preparing for the event while neglecting needs at home.
"Answer this question: Who profits more? FIFA businessmen or Brazilian people?" one protester asked.
Brazil actually bid for the 2014 World Cup in 2006, when it was much more confident economically.
"At the time, Brazil's economy was growing well. Its government wanted to showcase its achievements and to show how fast it was coming up in the world," Dr. Harold Trinkunas, with the Brookings Institute, explained.
In recent years, the economy has sputtered and Brazil's infrastructure and education system have lagged behind.
Now President Dilma Rousseff is in damage control mode, promoting the event and everything Brazil has poured into it.
"The airports, the metro, the BRT and the stadiums will not go back in tourist's luggage. It will remain here for our benefit," Rousseff said. "The Cup is just for one month, but its benefits are for the whole life."
The president's getting support from some who believe Brazil has the resources to fund the Cup and keep investing in its economy and services, such as education.
Another payoff: the Cup could enhance Brazil's international reputation.
"Most countries that host these large, international sporting events don't really make money on them," Trinkunas said. "It's really an opportunity to showcase their political achievements."
He says in the long term, Brazil is on track to succeed as a rising global power. And in the short term, Trinkunas notes the protests and complaints may fade as the excitement of soccer builds, especially if Brazil does well in the Cup.
While many Brazilians are protesting, others are seeing unusual opportunities.
Brazilian churches are mobilizing to reach soccer fans, including an estimated 3 million international visitors.
Christians are distributing literature with a message of hope to soccer fans.
Some are also flashing a red card similar to those used by soccer referees, but with a message warning against human trafficking.
"Then there are the typical, you know, drama, dance, cultural exchange teams, that are on the streets and ministering to the people," Johan Lukasse, with Youth with a Mission, said.
"We have many, many different opportunities to also reach out to people in different languages," he said. "For example, you can now on your smartphone actually download 700 languages of the spoken New Testament."
The opportunity for sharing with World Cup visitors will continue through the championship game, scheduled for July 13.