Quite a contrast of images coming out of Brasil at The FIFA Confederations Cup the last few days. www.fifa.com
Riots and protests in the streets of Brasilia, Porto Alegre, Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, Fortaleza, Recife and elsewhere with tear gas, water cannon and more. The excuse was the additional 20 cents increase in city bus fares, but it turned into much more than that. You can sum up Rio de Janeiro as FIRST WORLD PRICES: THIRD WORLD SERVICE. The most violence was in Sao Paulo, a very violent city, but most protesters tried to make their points peacefully.
I was in one classy hotel a few months ago and asked a simple question at the front desk. The two charming ladies there immediately produced a lap top computer which had various questions which I had to tick, and the Portuguese would pop up and they would answer with an English translation appearing. You can imagine how many people in the service industry can speak German, French, Farsi, Italian, Japanese, Dutch etc for the incoming throng in 2014. As one commentator put it. " If you can afford expensive English lessons you are hardly going to apply for a low paying job at a hotel front desk, are you?"
It was the same at the biggest shopping mall RIO SUL. I asked at a number of cell phone stores-and there are many of them,- and got blank stares- before being sent to the 5th floor where one of the dozen TIM employees there helped me get a SIM card.
Most taxi drivers can't speak a foreign language either but at the huge main train station,Central do Brasil, wanting to get the correct train to Estadio Olympico, the lady at the kiosk not only sold me the right ticket but left her office to personally take me through the electronic ticket entrance and onto the right platform.
The government and the World Cup organizing committee lied to the public, stating that most of the money for the hugely expensive stadium construction would be from private money: WRONG!! It was public funds that have been diverted from hospitals, education, transport infrastructure and security.
I jetted in and out of O.R.Tambo International Airport near Johannesburg many times and noticed the major improvements and ease of entry and departure and the varied shops and eating places. The Rio de Janeiro Airport at Galeo has very little to offer if you arrive early and the building from outside shows its age. There is however frequent air conditioned bus services to the city, though if you arrive when the locals are going to work or returning home you can expect crowded streets and journeys of up to 2 hours to Copacabana. The excellent Metro system doesn't reach to the airport and any extension will still not be active even by Rio Olympics 2016.
Trying to get south of Copacabana to the vaste new communities is gruelling and time wasting. Last Novemebr I wanted to go south and had to leave the Metro in Ipanema at the terminus and get on a bus that was stuck in traffic for ages. After 90 minutes and still short of my destination I got off, braved the 10 lanes of traffic to cross the road and return to Central Rio de Janeiro.
The futebol at the cup has been just great with the latest match I watched on TV from Pernambuco Arena, Recife Italy 4 v Japan 3 a classic. Watching the Brazilian team arrive for the earlier match at Castelao Stadium, Fortaleza they were relaxed, seemingly without a care in the world playing their own tambourines, drums and other musical instruments. They beat Mexico 2-0 with a goal and an assist from Neymar. What a talent.
Air fares are expensive to reach Brazil and due to anti-competitive rules, trying to fly directly to anywhere but Sao Paulo or Rio will cost you dearly. Long distance and comfortable air conditioned buses are plentiful but distance are vaste. Just look up the travel times. Up to three days from the North East to Porto Allegre. Even the three north-east cities of Fortaleze, Recife and Salvador are 12-20 hours distance fom each other. The next venue inland, Brazilia, is a 24 hour slog. At the Rodoviari Novo Rio Long distance bus station in Rio you can get busus to anywhere in the country, some more luxurious and comfortable than others, but in practice only Belo Horizonte and Sao Paulo at about 6 hours each, are worthwhile. Air is the only alternative.
NO PROBLEM for the FIFA Execs though. President Sepp Blatter has just jetted off to Turkey to watch a double header at the 24 team FIFA U20 tournament in Kayseri: Cuba v Korea Republic and Nigeria v Portugal, and will then return for more action in Brasil. Each Exec has a private, almost limitless bank account in the Bahnhof Strasse,care of FIFA in Zurich. Apart from $200,000 or so salary and 5 star hotels, meals, and local transport plus first class world wide, they can bring families and friends who also get lavish hospitality, suites and $200.00 a day expenses.
New Exec Sunil Gulati, President of US Soccer actually has a REAL job. He is a senior economics professor at Columbia University in NYC and doesn't receive a salary as US Soccer President. He is a hard worker but reluctant to publicize his new FIFA income, $200,000 annually, for fear of being a new boy with reformist ideas.
Change is slow at FIFA.
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