If they wanted to look wasteful, extravagant and divorced from the gritty reality of Brazil's millions of poor, World Cup organizers outdid themselves by choosing this remote, luxury beach resort as the venue for this week's draw.
In the old days when football and its governing body, FIFA, didn't take itself so seriously or burn money with such abandon, pitting one World Cup team against another used to be simple. Jules Rimet, the Frenchman who founded the tournament in 1930, got his grandson to make the draw in 1938. Young Yves Rimet, in smart shorts and a tie, climbed onto a table to pick the names out of a glass jar.
Organizing the same process in this paradise of beaches where sea turtles lay eggs and sea breezes whisper in coconut trees is costing FIFA and Brazilian authorities a cool $11 million.
To host the television extravaganza the World Cup draw has become, a mammoth white tent — more of an aircraft hangar, really — has been erected on the sand. At nearly 100,000 square feet, it is bigger than most of the world's cathedrals. It is carpeted inside, so the high heels and smart shoes of the 1,300 guests shouldn't make a clatter. It is air conditioned against Brazil's summer heat and powered by mobile generators. And all this will have to be dismantled, packed up and trucked out after Friday's 90-minute show.
It looks, in short, like a wasteful folly, a metaphor for a World Cup where Brazil is spending far more than it said it would on the monthlong tournament. It built and renovated 12 stadiums, four more than FIFA actually needed. Back in 2007, when Brazil was bidding to host the World Cup, its football federation estimated the stadium costs at $1.1 billion. The estimates climbed to $2.2 billion by 2010. The government's latest count is $3.4 billion.
It doesn't take a genius to understand why protesters who flooded Brazil's streets in June added World Cup spending to their list of complaints. When the world's seventh-largest economy isn't providing decent public services for all of its 200 million people and has millions stuck in third-world poverty, extra care should have been taken to ensure that World Cup spending could be justified. Holding the draw in the exclusive Costa do Sauipe resort against this backdrop of popular discontent makes the World Cup look like a junket and its organizers appear tone deaf. As FIFA's own website says, "Costa do Sauipe is a place to relax and have fun."
Any protesters, if they intend to trek all the way out here for Friday's draw, will need a lot of time, determination and a good set of walking shoes: The resort is in the heart of nowhere on Brazil's Atlantic coast. Salvador, the nearest city and one of 12 World Cup venues, is 45 miles away.
World Cup organizers have taken over the complex, covering it with banners and logos that only they, their guests and the 2,000 journalists will see. Armed police guard the entrance. Protesters would likely have to land by boat to get close. The draw will divide the 32 teams into eight groups of four teams. On the stage in the cavernous hall, eight clear goldfish bowls await to receive their names. Technicians were readying the 30 miles of cables and 36 tons of lighting equipment. Outside, workers were pouring a concrete road leading to the tent. FIFA put its costs for the draw at $8.5 million, with Brazilian authorities spending an additional $2.7 million.
Sepp Blatter, FIFA's president, argued Tuesday that the World Cup had become too big to settle for a modest draw ceremony. The show will be broadcast live in more than 190 countries.
Blatter called it "an integrated part of the big show which is the World Cup."
"It is accepted by everybody in the world, by all the football fans, that the draw must be a spectacular draw," he said.
Maybe. But even if one accepts that the draw will serve as a window on the world for Brazil and that the World Cup is more than just a simple football tournament, the venue still looks over-indulgent. FIFA's website notes that along with an 18-hole golf course, 15 tennis courts, pools and other facilities, the resort has more than 3 miles of "unspoilt beaches."
Jose Maria Marin, who heads Brazil's football federation, suggested the resort was as appropriate a place as any and that the draw could have been held "anywhere" in Brazil. In which case, organizers should have been smarter and held it in a football stadium where thousands of free tickets could have been given to slum kids.
"But fortunately for our happiness it's being held in Costa do Sauipe," said Marin.
John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at email@example.com or follow him at http://twitter.com/johnleicester