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August 18, 2014

Lessons from the World Cup as Seen from the Colosseum

    PAULO SOTERO - O Estado de S.Paulo 
    
    July 15, 2014 | 02:04 a.m. 
    
    
    There is nothing quite like the view from the Colosseum in Rome, the original arena, where I found myself the day after the humiliating 7-1 loss, to put the good and the bad of the World Cup into perspective. Faced with such grandiose ruin, it is imperative to recognize we volunteered as hosts and spectators of the great circus and we put on a terrific show. The lions behaved themselves, the centurions acted, for once, competently and the violent scenes provided by the gladiators could be summed up with a bite and a knee kick. We welcomed thousands of foreign visitors with the contagious friendliness for which we are known worldwide. And we enjoyed ourselves, until the fateful defeat. We have, therefore, nothing to complain about.

By leaps and bounds, leaving the dead and wounded along the way, and exposing our problems in the planning and execution of infrastructure projects, we delivered the essence of much of what was promised. We could have done better. Eight stadiums would have sufficed – and spared us the white elephants for which we no longer have a purpose. It was not due to a lack of notice. A year ago, the most lucid among us took to the streets to warn there was something wrong in concentrating so much energy and public money in the ephemeral spectacle, given an economy that was already slipping and so many other important things to worry about. We preferred to move forward, overwhelmed by the illusion of a sixth title, which we continued to sustain even after the Brazilian side showed in the opening games that it was not prepared to face strong opponents and might perform poorly in decisive encounters.

Surprisingly, even President Dilma Rousseff, who is not good at the circus, let herself be deceived. Her predecessor and mentor, who loves a coliseum and sometimes gives the impression he thinks himself a Caesar, was sufficiently arrogant to declare victory prematurely. "Let's win the cup because Brazil needs it," he said on June 24 at a forum for the business community.

In fact, Brazil didn't need, nor does it need, another trophy. The country already has the largest collection of these cups and will get along just fine without one more, especially if you draw the right conclusions about the World Cup and move on to collect more valuable laurels.

Before we mesmerize ourselves again in the quest for the holy grail of soccer, we could bring home a couple of Nobel Prizes and work to put a dozen of our universities among the top 200 in the world. Inspired by the great deal of good we have accomplished since restoring democracy and the achievement of economic stability, which paved the way for reducing poverty and inequality, we should invest more and better in the education of our youth, in the health of our people, in the quality of public spending and in companies of an Embraer standard, integrated into high-added-value global production chains.

We also have something to gain by learning the lessons left by the tournament, which ended on Sunday with the deserving triumph of the Germans.

The first of these was given by Romário, a former world champion gladiator, who has used the fame he gained in the arenas of the past to offer service to good causes in Congress. "I've been preaching in the wilderness for four years about the problems of the Brazilian Football Confederation, a corrupt institution managing a heritage of the highest market value, using our national anthem, our flag, our colors, and most importantly, our people, our players," said the indignant tribune, addressing the "crowd" in his virtual coliseum on the Internet. Romário accused the event promoters and profiteers of being "a band of thieves, crooks and gangsters", who often acted with the complicity, when not the direct assistance, of scandalous politicians.

Feliciano Guimarães, a young professor at the University of São Paulo (USP), offered another important lesson. "Soccer nationalism is damaging around here (...) and has reached the limit," he wrote to his friends on Facebook, regarding the impact of the disaster on July 8. Feliciano was referring to the harmful effects of protectionism that benefits our monolingual managers and their sponsors in the CBF, but is detrimental to national soccer, keeping it impervious to innovations in training methods and playing strategies developed in Europe, which now offers the best and most advanced approaches in the sport.

Feliciano's suggestion of opening up the Brazilian soccer market reverberated well and is a good legacy from the World Cup, especially since it applies to other areas of life in Brazil. One of which is the university itself. Another is the economy which, like soccer, has also reached the limit and urgently needs to integrate with the world in a more efficient and productive manner in order to attract technology, integrate knowledge, gain international competitiveness and overcome the current mediocrity. It is wonderful to be the seventh largest economy in the world. But, to quote a coarse expression recently used by a great Brazilian leader, it is hogwash to boast about this knowing that Brazil occupies 25th position in the global ranking of exports and represents less than 1.5% of world trade.

Not surprisingly, the advice to open up was not well received in Brasilia, where an end to exporting our players and even greater isolation were defended last week. But the inescapable fact is that the success of the World Cup adds strength to the warning given by the USP professor. Not least because, acting spontaneously and of our own free will, we are committed once again to exposing ourselves to the judgment of the world in two years time when we host the Olympic Games. This is a more meaningful and universal sporting event than the World Cup, since it is a better measure of the qualities of societies that develop athletes and their teams and the attention and support that their countries dedicate to them.

JOURNALIST AND DIRECTOR OF THE BRAZIL INSTITUTE OF THE WOODROW WILSON INTERNATIONAL CENTER FOR SCHOLARS



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