Reda Maher

Brazil 360: Mixed emotions on eve of a World Cup some never wanted

Reda Maher

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On the eve of the 2014 World Cup, I spent the afternoon wandering the streets of Rio de Janeiro, soaking in the heady, humid atmosphere on the day before the show begins.

On what was a typical working day for most of Rio's inhabitants, the standard hustle and bustle was tempered with a calm before the storm.

It was surprisingly low key, although things burst into life as the night fell. As I write this, the drums are kicking in as revellers hit the seedy but lively Lapa district for drink and dancing. I can only hope that the occasional cracks that ring out are merely high-end firecrackers and not gunshots from a nearby favela.

On a sunny, muggy afternoon, there were, of course, some giveaways. Like the Brazil flags poking out of cars and windows. And the occasional sunburnt gleam of a shaven-headed northern European football fan - for while there are always plenty of tourists in Rio, this time half of them are sporting colours.

In previous tournaments fans of England and Germany were among the more conspicuous; of course their matches are away from Rio, but while some are based here it appears the English in particular have not travelled in as great numbers as previously. Perhaps unsurprisingly, fans of the highly-rated Latin American sides – particularly Argentina – are prominent; Chileans, Colombians and Mexicans can also be readily spotted.

But enough of the visitors. What do the locals make of it all?

Strikes, protests and general discontent have dominated the headlines. But do the views of some trade unions and traditionally outspoken political activists represent those of the majority?

Jose Edimar, a restaurant worker in the Cinelandia district, a bustling area around the city’s Municipal Theatre, does not think so. He told me:

“I don’t believe they should be striking and protesting now. I understand things are not right, but this is not the time for it.

“I think most people want the World Cup to be a success, to show the world that we can do something like this. I want people to dance around the Maracana.

“We need to unite and make this special. I completely believe my country can succeed.”

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The tournament is also, clearly good for business.

It is easy to see why Edimar was positive – local restaurants and cafes have increased prices in the build-up to the tournament, although that is in part down to Brazil’s high inflation rate.

And from official stores selling overpriced Neymar shirts by the dozen, to the illegal street-hawkers flogging more affordable knock-off merchandise, the World Cup trade is booming, even if it can result in confrontation.

“This is FIFA!” a street hawker, or ‘camelo’, screamed after local police swept up his makeshift stall on Plaza Carioca.

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A street vendor is stopped by police in Rio de Janeiro

His anger was directed at FIFA’s ruling that unofficial merchandise cannot be sold within the vicinity of World Cup stadia, although – in reality – police have targeted the camelos for some time, arguing that they clog up the streets and irritate legitimate local businesses.

While many have benefited from the boom in football tourism, for some it’s business as usual.

I went to a ‘camelodromo’, an unofficial covered market dominated by electronics stalls. I wanted to unlock my phone so I could use a Brazilian SIM card, which proved incredibly complicated, involving confused calls to customer services representatives who demanded a Brazilian social security and passport numbers.

In the camelodromo, staff seemed surprised that a visitor would enter the rough-and-tumble of a locals’ market. They will see little impact on their trade during this World Cup, although by the numbers of customers present, business is good enough anyway.

There were also some tell-tale signs that not everyone is happy.

Many museums and galleries were closed, due to state-employed arts workers striking over pay and conditions.

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A banner confirms a strike by workers in Brazil's culture sector

There was a general strike on show too, although there appeared to be more policemen and casual observers than picketers:

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And, while Rio has always been a giant canvas of beautifully intricate and politically-minded graffiti, one piece in particular stood out for me.

This mural, just a few yards away from the headquarters of Brazilian energy giant Petrobras, wouldn’t look out of place in East London or Brooklyn:

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An anti-government graffiti mural pays tribute to Claudia Silva Ferreira

It is well-crafted, contemporary and beautifully positioned on a walkwak underneath a bridge in a commercial zone.

But, to the right of the masked member of Brazil’s ‘Black Bloc’ of anti-government protestors, lies a small tribute: ‘Somos Todos Claudia’, reads the script either side of an angel.

The Claudia in question is Claudia Silva Ferreira, a 38-year-old mother who went out to buy bread but was shot and wounded in the crossfire of a favela shoot-out between police and drug dealers.

She was piled into the back of a police vehicle, but the back door of the hatchback wasn’t closed properly. Claudia fell out of the car and, with an item of clothing catching on the open door, was dragged along the road to her horrific death.

It was filmed by another driver, and to avoid forcing distress upon readers the video report can be found here.

That was in March, and the wounds are still raw.

Another piece of street art also stood out for me, because of its grim gallows humour:

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A small, impoverished child reaches out towards an Apple logo, in reference to the nickname for street muggings, where iPhones are targeted in so-called 'apple pickings'. In the top right, the creator demands to know who this World Cup is really for.

Brazil is a bulldozer of a country, where life is as cheap as it is joyful. It is perhaps testament to the national sense of responsibility that injustices are being raised and fought for by its citizens.

But everywhere you look, its weaknesses are laid bare. Can four weeks of football and fiesta change the national mood? I’ll let you know next month.

Eurosport’s Reda Maher is on location in Brazil for the duration of the 2014 World Cup - follow him on Twitter @Reda_Eurosport

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