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Brazilians likely to give government a ‘pass’ over World Cup

BY Larisa Epatko  July 11, 2014 at 12:21 PM EST
Brazil fans look dejected during the 2014 FIFA World Cup semifinal match between Brazil and Germany at in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, on July 8. Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images

Brazil fans look dejected during the 2014 FIFA World Cup semifinal match between Brazil and Germany at in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, on July 8. Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images

The FIFA World Cup, which ends Sunday, has been a rollercoaster ride for Brazilians and no less so for the government.

When Brazil was playing well and advancing, President Dilma Rousseff rode the wave, visibly supporting the team and the tournament.

After Brazilian soccer star — known to fans simply by his first name Neymar — hurt his back during a match, taking him out of the rest of the tournament, Rousseff called him a “warrior” in a public letter of encouragement.

Then, after Brazil’s crushing 7-1 loss to Germany in the semifinals on Tuesday, she tweeted a famous song lyric, “Brazil, rise, shake off the dust and make a comeback”:

It seemed risky for the Brazilian government to tie its image too closely to the World Cup, especially considering the population’s ambivalence over the cost of hosting the tournament when other services lacked funding, said Joao Augusto de Castro Neves, Latin America director of Eurasia Group. And it looked even more hazardous when the Brazilian national team flamed out against Germany.

“To a lot of people in Brazil, the World Cup became the illusion that is the only criteria by which the country is defined. But Brazil is much more than the World Cup.”
But in the end, the results of World Cup will have little bearing on how the government — and Rousseff’s reelection bid — will fare in national elections on Oct. 5, Castro Neves and other analysts said this week.

“I think there’s going to be an exacerbation of negative sentiment with the government in general in the near term,” said Castro Neves. “But my view is that overall, longer term and looking toward the election, the impact of World Cup itself won’t be a significant one.”

Paulo Sotero, director of the Brazil Institute at the Wilson Center, agreed that the World Cup didn’t provide the government or the opposition with campaign fodder. “If the government was thinking about using a triumph in the World Cup as a political instrument, it will not have that available now.” The opposition won’t benefit much either, he said, “because it’s difficult to use a negative event to advance your case in a political campaign.”

Brazilians themselves likely will put World Cup behind them and return to the key issues many protested a year ago, including the underperforming economy and the condition of schools, hospitals and infrastructure, said Sotero, a native of Sao Paolo, Brazil. And voters will base their decisions at election time on the merits of the economy, the government’s and the opposition’s performance, and what each side proposes to the electorate, he said.

“People are sad about something that now after all, frankly, is not that important, it’s just a bunch of games of soccer and life will go on.”

Looking back, there’s no correlation between World Cup performance and politics and elections, said Castro Neves. In addition, the country has three months until elections in the fall, so other issues, particularly the deteriorating economy, will gain traction instead.

Brazil underwent a period of economic growth from about 2004 to 2011, benefitting from exporting commodities to China, said Castro Neves. That was the time Brazil submitted and won bids to host this year’s World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Then, the Chinese economy and global economy as a whole took a downturn, and Brazil’s growth model based on consumption and providing credit, began to fray.

“Over the last two to three years, GDP has grown around 1 or 2 percent, which is very disappointing” to Brazilians, said Castro Neves. But the previous gains haven’t been erased. Unemployment, though gradually climbing, continues to be low. And although wages have stopped increasing, they’re still higher than before 2004, he said.

So far, the economic situation is stabilized, but it risks going down at any moment, said Castro Neves. As long as the downward spiral doesn’t start before elections, Rousseff and her government still have a chance at reelection, he said.

“There’s kind of a danger zone now that the government is entering, but we think there’s going to be enough momentum for the government to win in October. Now, if the election was five or six months after, then maybe not.”

Brazilians now know that economic progress is not assured and economic models must be adjusted, said Sotero. “To a lot of people in Brazil, the World Cup became the illusion that is the only criteria by which the country is defined. But Brazil is much more than the World Cup. It’s a thriving democracy and is undergoing a transformation and I think will be able to continue to do so as long as our leaders are up to the task.”

Whoever wins in October will have a difficult job ahead, because the economy is expected to degrade even further, Castro Neves said.

On Saturday, Brazil will have another chance to play in a match against the Netherlands to determine who gets third place in this year’s World Cup. See all of the PBS NewsHour’s World Cup coverage.