I've never seen an entire country stand still. Yet, during any Brazil game during this World Cup, streets were deserted, beaches were empty, and every shop closed while millions of people huddled around TVs rigged to kiosks, bars, and outside homes across the country. Their passion for the game was not relegated to just its national team; Brazilians made every game a thrilling celebration of the sport.
Empty Streets of Rio during the Brazil-Chile Matchup (Photo by Suraj Patel)
If you watched TV leading up to the World Cup, you would say, "Brazil, your country is out of control." Every story about Brazil's hosting of the World Cup mentioned unfinished stadiums, poor infrastructure, rampant crime, and slowing economic growth, all of which threatened to make this most disastrous World Cup ever.
Its passion for the game allowed Brazil to take the task of hosting the World Cup to a new level -- famously known for its partying culture, no country could possibly match the energy Brazil summoned for this event. Coupled with tropical weather and a culture that celebrates everyday of life outside, there's no doubt that the ultimate winners of this World Cup will be the attendees who will forever be left reminiscing about their time in that country.
Makeshift "Viewing Parties" Crowding the Narrow Streets of Salvador
(Photo by Suraj Patel)
For sure, Brazil's hosting has had its share of serious issues and nothing short of a full inquiry and prosecution of everything from the city selection processes to grafts from contractors will suffice. And, by all accounts, FIFA's selection process is one of the most corrupt bidding processes of all international events -- a reputation not helped by back-to-back selections of Russia and Qatar.
Several taxi drivers I spoke with privately hoped that Brazil would lose in the Cup so that people would not forget the widespread corruption that went into Brazil's hosting of the World Cup. Without a doubt, spending less on opulent stadiums and more on mass transit or crime reduction would have benefited the Brazilian population much more so and taken very little away from the quality of event for attendees.
In fact, I know I would have been happier being able to take a reliable train to the stadium from Recife rather than the one-hour deathtrap of a moto-taxi ride I took through the flooded, traffic-snarled city.
"Death-trap" Motorcycle Taxi Ride From Recife Stadium back to the Airport
(Photo by Suraj Patel)
However, despite those serious problems, the doomsday predictions of protests and strikes never materialized. Threats of gang warfare and widespread crimes went unrealized. And even though public opinion poll after poll showed that ordinary Brazilians were opposed to hosting the Cup, they've fully embraced their team, the international visitors, and the game.
Maybe that what makes soccer the "beautiful game," for in soccer, more so than any other sport, passion trumps logic. Our quantified measures like GDP and gini coefficients cannot fully ever capture intensity and quality. And despite economists' best efforts, humans are just not the fully rational, utility-maximizing, self-interested individuals they need to create their predictive models.
This is a game that led two entire nations, Ghana and Ivory Coast, to share and ration electricity so that Ghana's people could watch their games! Economists would never predict that rational, profit-maximizing economic actors would voluntarily shut down the nation's main aluminum smelter to ensure that everyone could watch the games. Enough power or not, I doubt that people would remember the inconvenience over the experience.
Brazil's hosting of the World Cup exemplifies this -- the thing that doomsday predictions about Brazil missed were the intangibles like passion, energy, and hope that can tip a game to an underdog. They're the same intangibles that lead you to sing in the shower, dance in front of a mirror, or go for a stroll - these things do not add to quantified measures like GDP and were not covered in the lead up to the World Cup, but once in a while, like in Brazil, they end up making rational predictions completely wrong.
Overflow Crowds Watching Netherlands-Mexico on the Copacabana Beach
(Photo by Suraj Patel)
An almost religious zeal-like focus on quantity in this era where everything "big data" is the future often makes us overlook those unquantifiable things are sometimes the things most worth remembering.
Brazil created a World Cup where quantifiable factors, money spent on stadiums, and readiness will almost certainly be less than Russia or Qatar. But it more than made up for that by creating a Cup full of passion and dynamism. It's hard to think that Russia, or Qatar, or frankly anywhere could match that atmosphere.
The Brazilians love for their game transcended anything imaginable. The entire country shut itself down, or maybe better put, turned itself on, for this World Cup, and because of that, we all won.