The FIFA World Cup begins Thursday in Brazil, with the country, perhaps the most devoted in the world to the sport, in some turmoil.
The basic problem is that many Brazilians, in spite of not only their love for soccer but also their considerable skill at it, are seriously divided among themselves on whether their government should be spending the money that it is — an estimated $11 billion — on hosting the World Cup, and then the Summer Olympics two years from now, instead of on meeting more of the basic needs of the people of the country.
Their ambiguity on that subject is being reflected not only in substantial grumbling but also in sometimes violent demonstrations in the streets of its major cities and strikes of workers in basic infrastructure that risk making the streets of the host country uncomfortable for the thousands of international visitors and Brazilians who will attend the matches.
No one would argue that Brazil, with its infamous slums, host to violence both by their inhabitants and by Brazilian security forces seeking to control them, doesn’t have problems. It is also true that at least some of these problems could be solved by money devoted to them, to education, health care, housing, infrastructure and increased, more humane security measures.
At the same time, it has showed respectable economic growth for years now, and its two most recent presidents, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff, currently in office, have both showed sensitivity to the needs of the country’s poor.
What is needed now, as the visitors arrive and the games begin, is for the Brazilians, like a husband and wife who have had a scrap but who are awaiting invited guests within the hour, to postpone resolving their differences until after the party. Brazilians love soccer. Most of the world — including increasingly Americans — loves soccer. This is its premier event, and the Brazilians’ behavior will make or break this year’s World Cup. They need to smile and be good hosts.