Romario: FIFA is the real president of Brazil

The Rio Report

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Brazil congressman and former football star Romario

Brazil congressman and former football star Romario

You might think one Brazil's greatest ever players would be excited that the World Cup is coming to his country.

However, that is far from the case when it comes to footballer-come-politician Romario who has become one of the most vocal critics against the event.

The former striker was known for his laid-back style on the pitch and partying exploits off it, but has surprised everybody with his dedication as a congressman since coming into office.

He has been posting videos and writing newspaper editorials (including one for the Guardian in the UK) criticising the amount of money being spent on the tournament.

He has described FIFA as "the real president of Brazil" and said the money spent on stadiums for the 2014 World Cup could have been used to build thousands of new schools.

Romario, who spearheaded Brazil's attack when they won the 1994 World Cup, added Brazil had spent more than twice as much on hosting the World Cup as Germany did in 2006 and South Africa four years later.

"That is taking the piss," he said in a video that was widely circulated by newspapers.

"It's taking the piss with our money, with the public's money, it's a lack of respect, a lack of scruples."

Romario added that the money spent on stadiums so far was enough to provide "8,000 new schools, 39,000 school buses or 28,000 sports courts in the whole country".

Brazil has been hit by a wave of nationwide protests as it stages the eight-team Confederations Cup, which is considered a dry run for next year's World Cup. The amount of money spent on stadiums is among the protestors' many grievances.

The World Cup will be staged in 12 stadiums, either built from scratch or completely refurbished. Brazil is spending around 28 billion reais (£8.1 billion) on the event.

"The money spent on the Mane Garrincha stadium in Brasilia could be used to build 150,000 houses for low income families," said Romario, who says he is speaking as "Romario the Brazilian" rather than as a footballer or politician.

"But no, we spent 1.5 billion reais on a stadium. Is it beautiful? Yes. Is it practical? Not really. But another thing is that after the Confederations Cup, some things will have to be re-done, because they didn't work out, and a few new things will have to be added for the World Cup."

"The real president of our country is FIFA," he added. "FIFA comes to our country and sets up a state within a state.

"FIFA will make a profit of four billion reais which should provide one billion in tax, but they will not pay anything. They come, set up the circus, they don't spend anything and they take everything with them."

Brazil's Congress has passed a bill which exempts FIFA from paying tax on profits in Brazil. It was one of the conditions FIFA made when Brazil was awarded the right to stage the event.

"Since Brazil was awarded the World Cup in 2007, things have gone off the rails," Romario added.

"The budgets that were made for stadiums, airports and urban mobility were all wrong, and it's the people who pay the bill."

In his Guardian editorial Romario admitted that he was originally in favour of the tournament but says the situation has now completely changed.

"When Brazil won the bid to host the World Cup, other politicians were in charge of the country, and our political reality was different. I supported the bid because it promised to generate employment and income, promote tourism and strengthen the country's image," he wrote.

"Since then, Brazil has been affected by the turbulence in the world economy just like any other country. Government plans were redrafted, public investment was cut – yet the commitments signed with all-powerful FIFA stayed the same.

"Investment in cities hosting World Cup matches were prioritised over the people's needs. Money was channelled predominantly towards sport projects, at the expense of health, education and safety.

"…. I never thought the World Cup would solve all of our problems, but now my fear is that this mega event will only deepen the problems we already have."

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