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World Cup's economic bounce a little flat

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The winner of the World Cup of soccer will not be known until July 13, but already the tournament is a sporting success. Ties, especially of the 0-0 variety, have been mercifully rare. Not since 1958 have so many goals been scored per game in the group stage.

What about off the field, though?

Start with Brazil's economy. On the whole, economists agree, big sporting events have negligible impact on output. Money for the infrastructure bonanza beloved of politicians is not conjured from thin air, but is diverted from elsewhere.

Productivity dips too. Holidays have been decreed on some match days to ease the pressure on creaking public transportation. Before the Brazil-Cameroon game on June 23, for example, Brasilia was a ghost town. To spare fans inevitable gridlock, public institutions and private firms let workers off early. The S£o Paulo Federation of Commerce reckons that the output lost as a result could reach $14 billion, about as much as all World Cup investment put together.

Tourism-related earnings, pegged at $3 billion, will not offset this. For every soccer fan coming, a tourist is put off by the crowds and the prices. Business shindigs in popular destinations such as S£o Paulo or Recife, in Pernambuco state, have been cancelled.

Host cities did score some new infrastructure, though many question whether it was the sort they most urgently needed. Natal got a snazzy airport. Taxi drivers in Recife say that traffic has eased thanks to a new viaduct linking the north and south of the city. Brasilia, Curitiba and Salvador built new highways to their airports.

Severe flooding due to unusually heavy rains which hit Natal in the past week "would have been worse had it not been for the (World Cup)," said Demetrio Torres, special secretary for World Cup affairs in Rio Grande do Norte. A joint-operations centre created for the occasion helped police, firefighters and civil defence to co-ordinate their actions. As part of its preparations, the city also began building a new drainage system.

Not all of it was ready in time, a recurrent theme in host cities. Of 10 urban-mobility projects planned in Curitiba, only the airport road has been completed. In other places many were finished only at the last minute. A whiff of setting cement and fresh paint pervades Natal's new terminal. The coat of asphalt on Salvador's airport road is so fresh that long stretches lack marked lanes.

Still, supporters cannot complain. Except for the odd traffic jam, they have faced few hurdles. Flights run on time and buses whisk fans to venues. Adrian Richardson, a Californian fan touring the northeast to watch the U.S., conceded the roads are worse and the police presence heavier than during the last World Cup in South Africa. Still, he added, "the parties are better."

Activists banking on foul-ups to jolt their countrymen into the sort of protests that brought more than a million of them onto the streets during a warm-up tournament last June have been disappointed. Add in 147,000 police and soldiers, and it is little wonder that anti-Cup demonstrations so far have been mostly small and peaceful.

President Dilma Rousseff shouldn't take too much comfort, however. Although serious snafus almost certainly would have dented her popularity, the smooth running of the finals hasn't helped it. A survey taken a few days into the competition found, for the first time, more Brazilians think Rousseff's government is doing a bad job than a good one -- though she enjoys higher personal ratings.

If anyone is scoring brownie points, it's local governments. Denizens of Salvador attribute their city's infrastructure gains to Antonio Magalhaes Neto, a mayor whose Democrats party is part of the national opposition. Recife residents credit Eduardo Campos -- who has stepped down as governor of Pernambuco to challenge Rousseff in October's presidential election -- for properly testing the stadiums and transport links.

The World Cup is proving to be mainly about the soccer, though. It's a funny old game.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 28, 2014 0

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