No one ought to have been surprised when much of the soccer-mania that seemed to grip the U.S. during the World Cup, after the American team made it into the knockout round, disappeared once the team was quickly eliminated. Although the network telecast of the Germany-Argentina final posted fairly decent viewer numbers, there’s no doubt the U.S. team making it into that game would have done wonders for ABC’s ratings. But the big story of World Cup 2014 wasn’t about the Americans not advancing as far as they’d hoped, or even about Germany eventually winning the thing. The big story was the inexplicable humiliation suffered by the Brazilian squad, a meltdown made appreciably worse by Brazil’s being host of the event. Brazil’s search for answers to what precipitated this seismic shock to the national psyche, as well as a “never again” corrective course, looks likely to be a long, hard one.
One leftist sympathizing correspondent named Jay Janson posited the theory of protest demonstrations held before and during the games having possibly messed with the morale of at least some of the Brazilian players. But there’s not much reason to put stock in that proposition, unless accepting that the compromised player morale mysteriously chose not to manifest itself prior to the semi-final match with Germany. Longtime watchers of Brazilian football knew full well that what was being served up, ever since the tournament began, by this Brazilian squad was a far cry from what’s been known to be the best of Brazil. But not measuring up to typical Brazil standards is a lot different from looking absolutely dreadful, which is how the Brazilian players treated with their “religion” for much of that semi-final encounter.
The protests were all about income inequality and what was seen as misguided prioritizing in the commitment of a reported $14 billion to erect new facilities for the World Cup, while so many underclass needs remained yet to be addressed. The voicing of grassroots gripes, which sometimes became confrontational with police, probably didn’t affect the play of Brazil’s footballers, but it does invite conjecture about further social unrest down the road. Was Brazil indeed overreaching, bidding for, and getting, not just the World Cup, but the Summer Olympics two years hence? And was all of this play for world-stage attention really undertaken at the expense of those on the lowest rungs forgotten, as protesters claimed, while the good times rolled for other Brazilians seemingly a whole world away?
A good juncture, here, to get one thing straight about Brazil. Its location in Latin America notwithstanding, one needs to be disabused of any idea of “struggling Third World state” relative to Brazil. Unnoticed, perhaps, by many of us, Brazil, whose sustained development has it now ranked as the seventh largest economy in the world, is on a trajectory, by some reports, to break into the top five world economies maybe in a couple of decades. Indicators of robust growth are to be found throughout the Brazilian economy. Brazil boasts the second biggest industrial sector in the Americas. The unemployment rate currently runs at or below five percent; 18 million new jobs were said to have been created in the last decade. The 2011 Forbes listing of the 2000 largest companies in the world included 36 from Brazil. Forbes also ranked Brazil in 2012 as having the fifth largest number of billionaires in the world. And between 2000 and the present the country reportedly lifted some 35 million persons out of poverty.
Brazil’s success is real. And it’s clear that the course charted by the country’s leadership since the early 2000’s has been key in the current healthy state and positive outlook economically that Brazil enjoys. Pivotal in facilitating this period of sustained growth was the presidency of Lula da Silva who was first elected in 2002 and served two four-year terms. Although elected as the candidate of the Workers Party, of which he was a founding member, Lula had the political smarts to espouse policies which, while committed to a social change agenda, were also particular about maintaining a business-friendly environment. When Lula, one of the more popular leaders Brazil has had, left office at the beginning of 2011, being succeeded by Dilma Rousseff, the current president and Lula’s former chief of staff, more or less ensured continuation of the operating model that had been shown to work extremely well.
Ineluctably, there would be elements of Brazilian society taking issue with the notion that Lula’s formula is the optimum choice as Brazil’s way forward. They will contend, as they did in those World Cup street protests, that the share of this good-looking pie carved out for the have-nots is inadequate, period. They made their voices heard last year too, in even greater numbers, during the Confederations Cup matches.
For most of Brazil, though, the verdict seems to be that, all things considered, it’s not at all a bad ride, this heady trip in which there’s promise of even more shine radiating from their Latin jewel. They’re not about to forget that dreadful business of the World Cup semis. But for these people, there’s a heck of a lot more about which to get all samba happy. The football piece will be re-joining the party, for sure.