Reda Maher

Brazil 360: All angles covered by our man on the ground

Reda Maher

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I will be in Brazil for the duration of the World Cup, using Rio de Janeiro as a base to travel around a nation the size of a small continent.

Unlike the majority of UK journalists, I will not specifically be following the England national team, although I am hoping to take in at least two of their group matches.

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I won’t be reporting manager and player quotes from press conferences and training sessions, nor will I give you hour-by-hour updates of the state of Steven Gerrard’s groin, or which indie pop ditties Leighton Baines is playing on his guitar.

My role in Brazil is fourfold:

1. To attend as many games in as many cities as possible

In theory, I will watch the following group matches:

• Brazil-Croatia (Sao Paulo, June 12)
• England-Italy (Manaus, June 14)
• Argentina-Bosnia Herzegovina (Rio, June 15)
• Spain-Chile (Rio, June 18)
• Uruguay-England (Sao Paulo, June 19)
• Russia-Belgium (Rio, June 22)
• Italy-Uruguay (Natal, June 24)
• France-Ecuador (Rio, June 25)

In theory, I will also attend the following knockout matches:

• 2x second-round (Rio and Porto Alegre)
• 1x quarter-final (Rio)
• 2x semi-finals (Belo Horizonte and Sao Paulo)
• The final (Rio)

I say I will attend these matches in theory because, while I have pre-booked internal flights that allow for supposedly comfortable transfers between cities, Brazil – and Sao Paulo in particular – is currently a mess of strikes and protests, much of which directly involves its transportation systems.

2. To test the claims of Brazil’s government – and FIFA – that a developing nation is capable of hosting a major tournament

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My primary role is inexorably linked to this – is it possible to get around Brazil to watch a World Cup as a journalist or city-hopping fan? Are the facilities complete and in order? Can the security services protect the huge influx of visitors into a country with a notoriously high crime rate?

We were all repeatedly assured that Brazil would be ready for the tournament, that extra flights would be laid on, that flagship public transport facilities would be up and running in time for the tournament, and that visitors would be safe from attacks by the desperately poor, who have been neglected while the state runs up an unprecedented bill to host the tournament.

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This is where Sao Paulo – the venue for the opening match – currently stands: an unfinished stadium, an indeterminate strike by the subway workers’ union, violent protests, traffic gridlock and – given the previous two factors – no reasonable way in or out of the Arena Corinthians, with delays of up to four hours reported by media workers. Not to mention an incident which saw Bosnia’s coaching staff chased by armed attackers on bikes.

Given I have four hours to get from Arena Sao Paulo to the airport in order to catch my connecting flight to Manaus, where I will have two hours to get to its (relatively close) airport after England v Italy, I am anticipating at least one transport fail in Brazil. Hopefully that’s all that will go wrong.

3. To investigate the impact this World Cup has on local people

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Bad news makes headlines, so most of what we have heard about Brazil from the non-sporting press has been negative. Protests, industrial action, widespread anger that the centre-left government – voted in on a ticket of social justice – has ended up overspending billions of pounds on stadia and infrastructure that was supposed to have been funded by the private sector. Stadia and infrastructure that, apparently, have not been completed, despite Brazil being given a longer preparation period – seven years – than any previous host nation.

Where has the money gone? Why has it come at the expense of reducing the alarming gap between rich and poor in one of the world’s most rapidly growing economies? Why does Brazil have a GDP per capita comparable with Balkan states ready for EU entry, but has tens of millions living in abject poverty, in shanty towns without running water? What do ordinary Brazilians – as opposed to largely middle class political activists – feel about this World Cup?

And once the tournament begins, will the anger dissipate? Will the feelgood factor of hosting the greatest show on earth unite a country and bring joy to the masses? How will Brazil’s performances affect the national mood?

Remember, the 2012 London Olympics saw huge spending at a time of financial austerity, but they were a roaring, unchallengeable success. Excellent performances from the host nation helped, but fans from all over the world marvelled at how fun, efficient and safe everything was. Even the tube ran better than usual, and the doomsayers were silenced.

4. To have a great time

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Their is no point in viewing a World Cup entirely through a logistical or social lens. There will be some great matches, some fantastic parties, and no doubt some hilarious incidents. I’ve been to World Cup matches in the past, but this is the first time I will have covered the full, month-long tournament as an on-site journalist.

Hopefully there will be some tales to tell, and hopefully I can convey some of the atmosphere to you watching the games at home, in the pub or on a big screen in a sunny park.

All through the World Cup, you can get in touch via Twitter on @Reda_Eurosport, and follow snaps and short videos as I post them on Instagram (account: reda_eurosport).

Most of all, enjoy yourselves!

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