By the looks of things, writers had been itching for some time to write another round of “will Brazil be ready for 2014?” stories. Then Ricardo Teixeira, the head of Brazil’s soccer body (the CBF) as well as its World Cup Local Organizing Committee, abdicated last week. That is, the most powerful man in Brazilian soccer tapped out on the eve of the first South American-hosted World Cup in 36 years, in what still ought to be a moment of worldwide triumph for Brazil. Of his 23 years as the head of the sport there, Teixeira wrote: “I did what was within my reach, sacrificing my health. I was criticized in the losses and undervalued in the victories.” In a country already famous for its rivers, Teixeira would like us to cry him another.
He also noted, with a smidgen of foreshadowing, that Brazilian soccer “is associated with two things: talent and disorganization.” It’s the latter that’s has the international press rubbernecking, and if you’re the sort of person who enjoys slow-motion train wrecks, keep an eye on Brazil for the next two years. ESPN’s Tim Vickery does a cracking job of unpacking what he calls the “unlamented demise” of Teixeira and the list of blunders that have put Brazil in peril of botching the World Cup run-up, including multi-year delays in simply choosing the host cities. What — we were expecting Brazil to be ahead at some point?
Teixeira’s resignation comes after years checkered with corruption charges and about a week after FIFA’s secretary general, Jerome Valcke, ripped Brazil for sluggish preparations on such peripheral details as hotels, light rail systems and, um, stadiums. Valcke suggested to reporters that Brazil needed “a kick up the backside” to get moving. His uncommonly vivid choice of preposition did not sit well with the host country. Amid criticism from Brazilian officials, no less than Ronaldo came to Valcke’s defense. “His comments were unfortunate,” the very former athlete said, “but it does not mean he is not right.”
It also does not mean Brazil won’t pull itself together. Unlike their national squad, Brazilians at large are not only accustomed to playing from behind, they rather tend to prefer it. They even have a name for this approach to life, and if you’ve ever been an undergraduate, you can probably relate: jeitinho Brasileiro — “the Brazilian way,” roughly translated. It means that one will employ charm, or force, or cunning in the face of, well, whatever. Run this question past a Brazilian friend: Do you believe Brazil will be ready for the World Cup? The response is likely to sound a bit like the varying answers I’ve gotten when I’ve posed it to Brazilians lately. They’ll pull it together at the absolute last minute. Everything will move at this glacial pace (a fact of life in a country positively overgrown with bureaucracy). And yet, when the deadline truly threatens — it will get done. When FIFA President Sepp Blatter parachuted into Brasilia last week for less than a day, then bounced 21 hours later, you got the idea that no one expected anything different. Called into the dean’s office for failing grades, Brazil got its hair tousled and was sent on its way.
The Brazilian government has, rightly, come under scrutiny for some of the supposed clean-up it’s undertaken to prep for the 2016 Olympic Summer Games, which along with the World Cup stands to displace some 170,000 people nationwide. Brazil has gotten very rich very fast; it’s now the world’s fifth-largest economy and expanding. For good reason, the country is enjoying a nationwide sense of impunity these days. But somewhere between a kleptocratic young democracy and a reliable international power is a country that can deliver on promises to the world (i.e., that you’ll be able to get from the airport in Sao Paulo to an operational hotel). Freelancing is a hallmark of Brazilian soccer — the disorganization that Teixeira noted isn’t purely pejorative. It’s also a national point of pride. So when outlets such as CNN write that “there should be some concerns” about the state of World Cup preparation, they’re coming from a measured, rational place. But of course, the World Cup is headed to a country happy to be neither.