After the hot mess that was negotiating the stadium area – with crowd control that would make the hippies that organised Woodstock blush – members of the press were faced with a bizarre accreditation process, repeated technical faults affecting those trying to work, and nonplussed staff unable to offer too much in the way of assistance.
It turned out the Arena de Sao Paulo was not quite ready to host the world’s media. Fragile Wi-Fi flickered between barely on and off, sockets failed to house adaptors we were briefed to bring and photographers – many on hands and knees – tried in vain to get their prized images online. Setting up at Wembley typically takes 15 minutes; setting up in Sao Paulo encroached on two hours.
Finally things returned to normality minutes before the opening ceremony of the 2014 World Cup, although it dawned on many hacks that only two elevators were available for hundreds of assorted journalists and tecchies. The fitter of us elected to walk the nine floors to the upper tier, equipment in hand and on back, but spare a thought for the older colleagues growing increasingly irate as they feared missing the start of the whole darn thing.
Yet as soon as the curtain was raised, everything came together in a sometimes splendid and often bewildering exhibition of dance and colour to mark the showpiece of the showpiece, as it were.
Dancing broccoli, space-age body-poppers and a giant multi-coloured ball that popped open like a Terry’s Chocolate Orange to reveal the inimitable J-Lo.
Of course she was followed by a suspiciously off-key Brazilian chanteuse, Claudia Leitte, and faintly annoying rapper Pitbull, which just about sums the whole thing up: wild, wanton and fun – but ultimately flawed.
Maybe that is not a bad thing. After all, modern football is a sanitised affair, directed by rights negotiations, brand affiliations and a corporate structure geared to deliver meaningless but palatable soundbites to a global audience happy to gawk at a culture of celebrity our parents’ heroes would have heaved out of the pub.
Such commercialisation has of course been rampant at these finals – it’s FIFA’s tournament and in an increasingly capitalist world they have every right to milk it for what it’s worth.
But what Brazil is offering the game is something different, a throwback to the old days of glorious imperfection.
I have been as guilty as any of questioning the wisdom of awarding these finals to a country with more pressing needs, needs which have been covered in greater depth by my earlier postings.
And certainly, the inability to arrange the nation’s infrastructure to host such an event should not go unquestioned. For one it makes my job harder, although I appreciate that would be of little interest to those watching on television at home. But those creaking structures also impact on the enjoyment of fans trying to follow their team around this juggernaut of a country, such as the Australians I met who were frantically trying to catch a connecting flight to Cuiaba. I am still not sure if they made it. And ultimately this tournament should be all about the fans.
Maybe we are spoilt by Europe’s efficient, clean, sterile football machine; maybe things should be better in Brazil. But one thing is for certain – this World Cup will be like no other in recent memory, not even South Africa, which managed to pull off the last edition with little trouble.
Eurosport’s Reda Maher is on location in Brazil for the duration of the 2014 World Cup - follow him on Twitter @Reda_Eurosport
- Sports & Recreation