Workers in Brazil mixed on public spending to prepare for sporting events

The World

Workmen employed on World Cup construction projects are of two minds about the benefits for their country. (Photo by Girish Gupta.)

Protesters across Brazil have been speaking out about everything from poor public services and transit fare increases to the high cost of hosting the soccer World Cup next year and the Summer Olympics in 2016.

Some have even called for a World Cup boycott in soccer-crazed Brazil.

On a hot summer morning earlier this month, a small group of workmen in blue and yellow coveralls are putting the finishing touches on Rio de Janeiro’s newly renovated Maracanã Stadium. It’s the venue for the Confederations Cup, as well as the upcoming World Cup.

Wallace Gonçales, 33, is in charge of maintaining the stadium’s fiber optics. It takes him a long time to get to his job.

“I get up very, very early,” Gonçales said. “If I have to start work at 7 am, I get up at 4, and I don’t get home until 8 or 9 at night."

Gonçales says he takes the bus and it’s always crowded.

“The prices have gone up but nothing has improved. It’s really bad," he said.

Even though Gonçales earns his living servicing this stadium, he’s among the growing number of Brazilians calling for a World Cup boycott.

“The World Cup is going to be good, but having better services is more important,” he said.

On a nearby bridge, Leandro Cardoso is installing lights that will lead crowds from the subway to the stadium for the Confederations Cup final, which was Sunday. He also takes public transportation to the job site, and his trip isn’t so smooth. It takes him 2 to 2.5 hours, so he sympathizes with the protestors.

“I haven’t been to the protests yet, but I think they’re wonderful and I’d really like to go,” Cardoso said. “But I can’t. I have to work.”

But not all the construction workers at the Maracanã support the demonstrations. Anderson Alves, who is paving a sidewalk on the other side of the site, thinks the World Cup is critical for Brazil.

And without it, he wouldn’t have this job.

“I don’t like the protests, they’re just vandalism,” Alves said, adding he doesn’t think the World Cup is a waste of public funds. “If they didn’t spend the money, there wouldn’t be jobs.”

But for many Brazilians, the Maracanã Stadium has become a symbol of corruption and misplaced government spending. There are plans to sell it to a private consortium, though the government has spent $500 million to renovate it. Another construction worker, Humberto Oliveira Silva, sees it as a worthwhile investment, even if the Brazilian public is picking up the bill.

He says the World Cup, and the work leading up, to it will leave a lasting imprint.

“We’ll have better transportation infrastructure and the city will benefit from it,” Silva said. “The trains and bus systems will be our legacy."

For now, though, Brazilians seem more focused on the protests and strikes spreading throughout the country than on any benefits that might come from hosting two of the world’s biggest sporting mega events.