As Team U.S.A. took the pitch today in Recife for what might be its final World Cup match, some other Brazilian cities were already turning off the lights on their newly built stadiums now that the tournament is halfway over.
Here in Manaus last night, the final crowds exited the still-shiny $300 million Arena da Amazônia after the Honduras-Switzerland match, bringing a close to the biggest event that ever has—and likely ever will—come to the Amazon rainforest. With no more matches scheduled here or in Cuiabá, Natal, and Curitiba, public scrutiny is now turning to what will become of these mega-investments.
“It’s not economical, it’s not good for the country,” said Kelson Eugenio, sitting inside the stadium yesterday with his eight-year-old son and suggesting the money could have been better spent on education. “At the same time, soccer is soccer. We’re taking advantage of the World Cup being here.”
Brazil’s government is still trying hard to sell the event to a skeptical public—and time is running out, with the final match scheduled for July 13. Some long-term benefits to the event’s $11.3 billion price tag are already visible, such as new infrastructure, a jump in tourism, and a boost to businesses. Others are less apparent, like the government’s claim that $6 billion in new investment has been promised by visiting businesspeople, or the specialized training for Brazilian security and police.
By that last measure, Military Police Commander Fabiano Bó considers the World Cup a success. The head of special operations for Manaus, which hosted sold-out matches for teams including U.S.A., England, Italy, and Portugal, Commander Bó said his units had received advanced training that prepared them to deal with riotous fans and several small-scale protests. His cavalry trained in Portugal, his bomb squad trained in Argentina and Colombia, his canine unit trained in Colombia, and his shock battalion trained with U.S. advisors, he said.
“Without the training, there wouldn’t have been the same success we had,” said Commander Bó, standing outside the stadium and watching as more than 40,000 people drained out onto the surrounding streets after Wednesday’s match.
Commander Bó waved to acquaintances in the crowd and looked on as fans posed for photos beside the mounted cavalry among the 900 police and security on hand—including shield-wielding riot police. The commander hardly blinked when police moved to break up a small skirmish between fans, and he laughed when a passing woman animatedly suggested that the scuffle was cause by a lovers’ spat.
“We had protests, but there was never a break of order,” he says. Asked which countries produced the most riotous fans, the commander responded: “The English and the Americans have been the most animated, but there were no problems.”
Indeed, while violent demonstrations in São Paulo have earned international headlines, the street protests here in Manaus were so minimal that many were unaware they ever happened—contributing to the sense that Manaus pulled off something of a miracle by successfully hosting the world’s biggest soccer egos and their energetic fans.
Manaus security details will no longer have to deal with the protesters or foreign fans—or many local fans, for that matter. The capital of the remote northwestern state of Amazonas lacks any major soccer teams, and the intense heat and humidity that drained players and fans for the past two weeks will remain a hurdle for future events—none of which are yet planned.
This again raises the question of what all the special training was for in the end.
“The soccer teams here only bring out about 200 people,” says a taxi driver in Manaus who gave his name as “Goucho.” “After the World Cup, the stadium will be a white elephant,” he said.
Goucho didn’t attend any matches, and he said that the sole uptick in business during the tournament came from driving prostitutes to upscale hotels where foreign tourists were staying.
“The World Cup brings better things for a few groups of people, the big businesses,” he added, questioning how it was possible for Brazil to host the world’s most-watched sporting event—but still impossible for his city to renovate a small hospital for a fraction of the cost.
Perspectives toward to the World Cup in Manaus differ markedly between those stuck outside the 42,000-seat stadium—a grand white structure designed to resemble a traditional straw basket—and those who were lucky enough to attend a match—many whom appeared incredulous that the best players on earth, including FIFA player of the year Cristiano Ronaldo, had dropped into the Amazon.
“Before, I thought it would become a white elephant—but now, no,” said Sibelle Moreira, a recent engineering graduate who witnessed the end of yesterday’s Honduras-Switzerland match. She said that Manaus’ role as a World Cup host city had finally put the state of Amazonas on the map.
“Everyone says it’s a white elephant, but if this stadium didn’t exist, Amazonas wouldn’t have appeared to the world as it has appeared during the Cup,” agreed Riciem Gabaldi, a baker who was at Wednesday’s match with his adult son and daughter. “I feel pride that this happened here—that this stadium was built.”
Lingering inside the stadium on Wednesday, dental student Mayoura Alincar appeared emotional while soaking up the last bits of excitement. FIFA President Sepp Blatter himself had attended the match—and was booed in the stadium when his face appeared onscreen—lending the match more gravitas. Alincar said the city had overcome many doubts and much criticism, including from the English team’s coach, Roy Hodgson, who complained about having to play “in the middle of the Amazonian jungle.”
“It’s really emotional to be here,” said Alincar. “I don’t know what will happen now. It’s complicated. I hope it’s a good thing for the city.”