THE BLOG

Could Brazilian Pride In The Maracanã Change The Entire Nation?

05/06/2013 12:55 BST | Updated 04/08/2013 10:12 BST
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The new improved Maracanã stadium in Rio de Janeiro is now open for business. The opening match last weekend featured England and Brazil in a battle where both teams led for part of the game and eventually settled on a 2-2 draw.

You have probably read the match reports already, if not then Tim Vickery's report for the BBC is more insightful than most. What I'm more interested in is the stadium itself and how the people of Rio handled the game - is Brazil ready for the World Cup next year?

Clearly not is the message from the Mail Online. Their own report on the game focused on how their reporter was mugged at knifepoint later in the evening - the very first sentence of the report raises concerns about the security situation in Rio ahead of the World Cup.

But let's face facts; in a city of six and a half million people, someone is going to get mugged every day of the week. In fact, in a tourist area like Copacabana it pays to not stand out because thieves will specifically target you. Try walking along the beach with a big SLR camera around your neck and an expensive watch and see how long it takes to attract attention - or just wear the kind of clothes that make you look like a visitor (an England shirt) because people on holiday often carry a lot of cash.

But I'd give the same kind of advice to a friend visiting London or New York. Nobody makes an effort to stand out in Covent Garden, flashing bling and assuming it's entirely safe just because it's Blighty. To argue that the Brazilian security situation is flawed because of one mugging is foolish and even Mail readers understand this - just take a look at the comments on the story.

My own experience of Rio on Sunday was quite different. It was a hot day for winter - about 30c by lunchtime and when I collected my match tickets from the Fluminense stadium other fans were already talking to me in the street about the game. That's Brazilian fans talking to a guy in an England shirt and even offering good luck messages to our team. Being Brazilian they probably assumed England would need plenty of it.

The public transport system worked well. As the station name is 'Maracanã' it's obvious even to foreigners where to go, but people on the train still offered help and made sure that visiting fans were going the right way.

When we left the train it was a short walk to the stadium. There were armies of volunteers helping people find the right place to enter the stadium. The volunteers regularly cheered or high-fived a passing fan - the Brazilians have taken on board the Games Maker lessons learned at the London 2012 Olympics.

Kids were getting free balloons and toy animals as we entered the stadium and once in our seats there were vendors walking around selling popcorn and soft drinks. Brazil doesn't allow alcohol to be sold in football stadiums and this rule was applied for the England game, but the restriction will be lifted during the World Cup itself - possibly leading to beer being delivered to your seat like at American baseball games.

The stadium itself is now superb and as good as any new European venue. For the money the Brazilians spent on redevelopment they could have just levelled the Maracanã and built a new venue, but the modernisation has worked well and maintains just the right amount of history. The aisles are wide, the seats are comfortable, and the view to the pitch is excellent with fans feeling very close to the action.

After the game, we were out of the stadium and on a metro train heading back into the city within about 20 minutes. And we stayed right to the end to watch the England team come over and salute their travelling fans. The crowd organisation was superb and it was certainly easier to get out and back into town than after a major event at Wembley in London.

On the train after the game I could hear a group of English fans talk about their experience in Rio and the entire group agreed that the security fears had been overblown by the media. They had no concerns when enjoying downtown Rio and had been welcomed in bars across the city. One fan was recounting his time in South Africa during the last World Cup and suggested that the fans should have been warned a lot more about going out to random places in Johannesburg rather than anyone worrying about Rio.

There is a tendency in Brazil for the people to often downplay their achievements. People here often assume that things they have little personal control over can never be changed. This attitude has led to a great deal of negative discussion around the World Cup and most of the media loves taking a dig at the government, so the negative messages prevail.

Brazilians are endlessly sharing images and messages on Facebook that ask why there has been such a focus on the World Cup when they need better schools and hospitals - and politicians they can trust. It's hard to find someone not actually associated with these big events that will argue how it might be good for the country.

This attitude feels exactly the same as the British view of the London Olympics right up to the moment of the opening ceremony. I can remember writing in support of the Olympics a few days before the start of the games only to find I was bombarded with hate messages. That all changed once Danny Boyle's spectacular opening ceremony got going.

Most British people feel a great sense of pride because of the London games and this will extend for many years. The biggest fashion trend in Brazil at the moment is union flags on bags and clothes - because of the London Olympic games - and more people are going to be visiting London this year and next because of the games.

Brazil is going to feel this effect. They have shown the world with the reopening of the Maracanã that they can organise enormous events - without the chaos predicted in the media. From what I saw on the ground in Rio this weekend, Brazil is going to host an incredible World Cup and Olympic games. There is no doubt in my mind that if you love sport then you should be planning to come and visit.

But the real legacy will be about more than just hosting these events. I think that the Brazilian people will realise that nothing is impossible. If they can host both the World Cup and the Olympics in the same decade and make a great success of these global events then they may finally demand more of their leaders.

Social media is going to fundamentally change Brazilian society over the next few years and this will be accelerated when the present Facebook brickbats about the World Cup change into a realisation that Brazil is going to host a fantastic global event. If that online anger can be channelled into real improvements in national governance then national pride in the Maracanã really will have achieved something worthwhile.

Can sport and national pride really ever affect politics and society at large? Watch Brazil closely this decade. Just watch.