SAO PAULO – Go to a sporting event in Brazil and you will be mesmerized by fanatic crowds, nonstop chanting and an incessant party atmosphere. Go to a sporting event in Brazil and you will also be shocked by outdated venues, widespread disorder and endless violence.
There's nothing like being a sports fan in Brazil. But it's not easy being a sports fan in Brazil.
Brazilians are passionate about their soccer — and sports in general.
Fans idolize their stars on the fields, courts and tracks. They'll cheer loudly at any sporting event they'll go to, be it a World Cup match, a Formula One race or a mixed martial arts fight. They'll instill a party atmosphere whether they are in a $500 million stadium or at the neighborhood court for an amateur volleyball tournament.
And they do it despite challenges that fans in the United States or Europe are not used to enduring. There are no decent ticketing structures and no marked seats inside stadiums. Rather, there are outdated venues providing very little comfort and lack of safety inside and out.
Things are improving after the country was picked to host the World Cup, but sporting events in Brazil are still far from being well organized. Fortunately, the problems are usually offset by boisterous crowds and vivid fans, with games filled with people waving flags, cheering with choreographed moves and chanting nonstop to the beat of drums and samba songs.
It's an atmosphere that can easily impress.
American filmmaker Spike Lee will tell you that. He was at the Maracana Stadium for the Brazilian Cup final two weeks ago, when the country's most popular soccer club, Flamengo, won the title.
"I can't lie. Tonight's match made our Super Bowls look like the Little League World Series," he said on his Instagram account. "This place was crazy for the entire game. My ears are still ringing and it ended over (an) hour ago. I have never heard (a) crowd that loud in my life."
F1 drivers will say the fan enthusiasm in Brazil is what makes it worth coming back to the country every year.
Drivers have been complaining about the lack of structure at the Interlagos track in Sao Paulo for a long time, saying it's the worst among all venues they visit all year. But for just as long, they've also been saying how much they enjoy racing in front of the Brazilian fans.
"It's one of the best atmospheres of the whole season," Heikki Kovalainen of Finland said before this year's season-ending race in November. "The fans are incredibly passionate. They're very knowledgeable and they turn the whole weekend into a giant party in the stands. It's pretty cool on Sunday when you're on the grid and all the stands are bouncing. It really is a cool place to race."
British driver Paul di Resta said "there are drums playing in the grandstands and a party mood all the time. It's great to see and it definitely gives you a buzz."
The fan atmosphere is similar for nearly every sport.
"I've been doing events all over the world over the years and Brazil wins for the loudest crowd ever," Ultimate Fighting Championship president Dana White said after bringing MMA to the country for the first time a few years ago. "The place was packed from the first fight. It was incredible. We might be here every weekend now."
For the fans, though, the experience, sometimes, is negative.
In the quarterfinals of the Brazilian Cup at the refurbished Maracana just a few months ago, fans who paid about $200 for a ticket found out that their seats were already occupied. A steward was called in to help but said he couldn't do anything, saying it would be impossible to rearrange all those fans to the correct seats.
"That has been the tradition here, it's part of the fan culture in Brazil," said Erich Beting, a sports marketing professor and a sports business specialist in Brazil. "People have been doing these types of things since they were kids, so it's normal that it still happens. It can be changed, but it's going to take time. We say here that going to a game in Brazil is not an experience — it's an adventure."
Brazil's Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo, the government official in charge of the country's preparations for the World Cup and the 2016 Rio Olympics, said Brazilian fans don't expect to be treated as consumers.
"What drives the fans in Brazil is passion, is fantasy," Brazil Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo said a few weeks ago. "Fans don't go to games looking for good entertainment. They will be happy if the best player of the rival team can't play. They are not there to see a good product, they are there for their team."
Nothing will attract the Brazilian fans' attention like a World Cup, an event that brings the nation to a near stop. When Brazil plays in soccer's showcase tournament, students are allowed to skip classes and nearly all workers get the day off.
And with the tournament at home this time, it's hard to say what it's going to feel like to Brazilians.
The players got a glimpse of the excitement during the Confederations Cup, the warm-up tournament this year, when the crowd put on a show by continuing to sing the national anthem even after FIFA would limit the length the music.
"It was something wonderful, very special," Brazil goalkeeper Julio Cesar said after it happened for the first time in the match against Mexico in Fortaleza. "We couldn't be more motivated after experiencing something like that. Everyone was caught by surprise when it happened. Even the referee (Howard Webb) came to us and said that he had never seen anything like that."
Opponents better be prepared during the World Cup next year. It will feel like paradise for Brazilian fans.
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