Adidas 2Adidas launched two tshirts this month that were ostensibly about the World Cup but had a sexual connotation. Their message was clear: Come to Brazil for the football and you might get lucky.

The tshirts were withdrawn from sale yesterday after the Brazilian government complained they were “a crime against all humanity” that encouraged sexual tourism.

The tshirts, pictured here, were in questionable taste and the company was right to remove them from shop windows.

But the Brazilian government’s response is not just over the top (a crime against all humanity?), it is also hypocritical.

Walk down any Brazilian street and you are assailed by sensual images, both real and virtual, that go far beyond what you see in Europe or the US. Infant girls get their ears pierced and are adorned with pink ribbons. Children are wheeled out on TV shows in hot pants and crop tops where they dance suggestively. Gorgeous and scantily clad women are a fixture in adverts and on television.Adidas 1

Beer companies, to quote perhaps the most egregious example, don’t just have semi-naked blondes (yes, they’re usually blondes) in every commercial, they give their beers names such as Devassa, Proibida, and Gostosa.

Most of this is down to the private sector and, lamentably, the media.

But federal, state and municipal government rarely object and certainly not with the vigor they showed yesterday.

Instead, they continue to do business with the guilty companies. They give their imprimatur to carnival, where semi-nude and second rate models shake themselves atop pedestals under the guise of culture. They advertise with the offending media conglomerates.

This isn’t a comment on sexual attitudes. It’s a comment on hypocrisy and perspective.

Brazil is always sensitive about its image and will be even more so in the run up to the World Cup. But there are many more important issues to be resolved right now than the sale of a few questionable tshirts.

The furor over the tshirts is not wrong. It’s just missing the bigger picture.

kitkatIn a country where almost everything is maddeningly expensive, one of the highlights of traveling is the stop at Duty Free on the way home.

In Brazil that means Dufry, the company with the contract to sell duty free items at Brazil’s airports.

I’ve long suspected that Dufry are ripping people off, much like Itau, whom I wrote about here last year.

My suspicions were aroused a couple of years ago. I forgot my headphones when heading to the US and bought a pair in duty free at Guarulhos airport. A day or so later I spotted the same pair in a store in Florida for almost half the price.

When I came back to Brazil I asked Dufry for an interview but their press officer said it wasn’t the right time to talk. A few weeks later his boss was in Folha boasting about how the firm was thinking of opening stores on Brazil’s land borders.

I came back to Brazil again this week and found one more example of how Dufry are ripping off unsuspecting customers.

A bag of 25 two-finger Kit Kats was on sale at the Dufry shop for 54 reais. That works out to be 1.08 reais per finger. It seemed expensive so when I got back to Sao Paulo I checked out the prices.

I picked up a four-finger Kit Kat at a pharmacy in Sao Paulo yesterday for 3.50 reais, or 0.875 reais per finger. Much cheaper than in Dufry’s duty free shop.

Remember the whole point of a duty free shop is that the items they sell are tax free and so should be cheaper than in regular stores.

It’s hard to look at Dufry and see a company that is willfully ripping off its customers.

collage_20131205154743648_20131211235334178-1Lots of people ask me whether I think the World Cup will be a success and I usually answer in two parts.

Yes, it will be great for a month and the people who come here will have a fantastic time.

But when they leave, Brazilians will be left with the bill, the shocking lack of a legacy infrastructure, and a tragic feeling, especially if the home side wins, that everything in their country is hunky dory.

The next question is often, Why do think it will be great when you have all these criticisms?

I found the perfect answer to that question last week at the World Cup draw. Every morning at breakfast dozens of colourful little birds flew around the hotel’s outdoor dining room. A colleague said he saw a family of meerkats nearby.

Brazil can be a hugely enchanting country and Brazilians have an undeniable charm. Sitting down to breakfast and seeing wildlife up close is an unforgettable experience for a visitor.

Fans come for the football and seeing the World Cup in the game’s spiritual home will be a dream come true for many.

Put that together with friendly natives, beaches, sunshine, music and one month-long party atmosphere, and that’s more than enough to send a visitor home enraptured with their South American stay.

I’ve no doubt those will be the memories most people will take away with them.

riodejaneiro_aerea_arenamaracana-135768The legendary Maracana stadium was modernised at a cost of more than 1 billion reais and now boasts room for 78,838 fans.

A massive press area was set up for the Confederations Cup and thousands of journalists covered the FIFA-organised final between Spain and Brazil in June

But now that the running of the stadium has been turned over to Rio authorities they are unable to find room to house the few hundred local and international reporters who want to cover the Brazilian Cup Final.

Several foreign correspondents have been refused permission to cover the game. The new Maracana’s press box “isn’t big enough for big matches,” admitted Eraldo Leite, Acerj’s president.

So, the biggest stadium in Rio and the most emblematic of all Brazilian grounds hasn’t built a press box big enough to handle press for big games. That forethought. That’s planning.

I’ve always loved the noise of a football crowd when a goal goes in. There’s something visceral and emotional about that roar, it’s a release like none other.

That’s one of the reasons I absolutely love this video about Sport’s campaign to boost the number of organ donors in Pernambuco, where the club plays its home games. The emotion of the crowd at the start of the clip is a thing to behold.

That emotion is nothing when compared to what comes next. Sport fans awaiting transplants guarantee their future donors that their passion for the club will live on after they die.

“I promise your eyes will keep on watching Sport,” says Adriano dos Santos, a fan awaiting new corneas.

“Your lungs will keep on breathing for Sport,” says Luiz Antonio, a fan awaiting a lung transplant.

And “I promise your heart will keep on beating for Sport,” says Marleide dos Santos, who is awaiting a new heart.

It’s such a simple and yet brilliant idea and it has led 57,000 Sport fans to register as organ donors. Enough of them, in fact, that the waiting list for heart and cornea transplants in Pernambuco state has been cut to precisely zero.

More clubs should join up.

Itau, run by liars, thieves and cheatsItau made a profit of 14 billion reais (around US $7 billion) last year.

Here’s one of the reasons why.

A couple of weeks ago I spotted an unfamiliar charge on my bank statement. It’s hard to know what Brazil’s banks are charging you for because they deliberately make the statement unintelligible.

For example, instead of writing: Payment for Private Health Plan – 601,94 reais, they write AG. PAG TIT 236431171236362 – 601,94.

After taking a closer look I saw they’d been taking 20 reais out my account every month since the start of the year. I knew it couldn’t be a monthly charge for running my account because I’d last year specifically asked Itau not to charge me the monthly fee and they’d removed it.

(Banks won’t tell you this but you are not obliged to pay a monthly fee. As long as you’re not using a certain number of checks or withdrawals, banking is free.)

So I went to the bank and asked about the mysterious charge. They opened an investigation and promised to call back within a week. They didn’t so I went back and complained again. A few days later I got a phone call.

After half-heartedly trying to shift the blame on me the bank eventually admitted they had illegally reinstated the monthly charge. For seven months I’d been paying them 20 reais a month even thought I had specifically asked them to remove it.

The bank apologised (in their own unapologetic way) and promised me they would reimburse me the 140 reais.

Excellent, I thought and celebrated one of life’s tiny victories.

I told a friend about this triumph and he laughed. They’re still screwing you, he said.

How’s that, I asked.

The answer is this:

When a bank or utility illegally charges you or overcharges you they are obliged not just to pay you back what they owe but pay you back DOUBLE.

I checked. He’s right. Here‘s the Defesa do Consumidor page saying exactly that.

So I went back to Itau and asked them if I was entitled to receive double. They said Yes, and promised to begin the process to pay me the extra 140 reais.

Why didn’t you tell me that under the law I was entitled to receive double, I asked.

We only pay double to those that ask, my bank manager responded.

So even though you know the law says you should pay back double, Itau doesn’t do that unless customers ask specifically for the letter of the law to be applied.

She hummed and hawed and told me that was the culture here and that all banks did it this way.

I told her Itau were nothing short of thieves.

She shrugged her shoulders and looked sheepish.

I will now wait and see if Itau pay me double as they’re supposed to. But I at least established another reason Itau’s profit last year was the second biggest in Brazilian banking history.

By deceiving their customers.

The Economist’s recent Brazil report started a huge debate that in Brazil at least centered on criticism of both the report’s style (the flashy cover) and its substance (impeccable reporting and reasoned analysis that dared to suggest Brazil is far from perfect).

The magazine asked “Has Brazil Blown It?”and over 14 pages wrote about where Brazil is doing things right (agriculture, social policy) and where it is doing things wrong (education, infrastructure, politics).

I’ve lived in Brazil for more than a decade, and written about it for dozens of magazines and newspapers and I long ago realized that if you write 10 nice things about Brazil and one not-so-nice thing Brazilians and Brazil-lovers will seize on the not-so-nice thing and presume you hate their country.

The Economist Brazil covers from 2009 and 2013

The Economist Brazil covers from 2009 and 2013

It’s a sign of Brazil’s immaturity and lack of engagement with the wider world as well as an indication of how passionately people (including expat residents) feel about the place.

For far too many Brazilians and Brazil-lovers, pointing out that there’s too much corruption, or red tape, or that the judicial system only works for the rich, or that the banks are nothing short of thieves means you hate Brazil.

Because in Brazil, if you criticize something it means you’re against it.

I think the opposite is true.

Here’s my question for all those who think there’s a conspiracy against Brazil:

Who loves Brazil more? A corrupt Congressman who siphons off money that should be going to schools and hospitals? A young businessman whose drink driving kills an old age pensioner out walking her dog? A banker charging interest rates of 238% a year?

Or the person who denounces the corrupt Congressman, the young businessman whose drink driving kills and the banking system that allows bankers to rob (and stunt growth and investment) with their criminal bank charges?

To criticize doesn’t mean to hate. Sometimes it means exactly the opposite.

A Brazilian Congressman was found guilty of embezzlement and organized crime earlier this year and sentenced to 13 years in jail, thus becoming the first parliamentarian in almost three decades to be imprisoned while holding elected office.

Last night, his colleagues in the Chamber of Deputies voted that Natan Donadon should not lose his parliamentary perks.

Brazil’s hated political class could not have sent a clearer message to their citizens.

Your protests against corruption, abuse of power and impunity were a waste of time. Their vote last night said, “We don’t care what you think.” It screamed, “Business as usual.”

The mass protests that shook Brazil in June lasted just a few weeks and only a hard core have continued protesting in the weeks and months since. (I explain some of the reasons here.)

But if Brazilians really want change, then this is the time to act. It is at moments like this they must make their voices heard. They must tell their politicians that such decisions are unacceptable.

Impunity is the grease that oils the wheels of corruption. It is time to take to the streets again and say, once again, Enough is Enough.

Vitinho is a football player for Botafogo. Or was. He just signed for CSKA Moscow. Which makes him an idiot.

Vitinho is 18 and could have gone to Porto, the Portuguese club that also reportedly tried to sign him. At Porto, he would speak the language, enjoy an amenable climate almost all year round, play for a club that has a reputation for bringing on young players, and be close to his family in Brazil. And he would earn a fortune.

Instead, he chose to go to Russia. He will earn a fortune there too but the sub-zero temperatures will make him miserable, he will never learn the language, and he will be a long, long way from home, in every sense.

Moreover, if he had chosen Porto they might have allowed him to stay with Botafogo until the end of the season and help the club keep up its title challenge.

Instead, Botafogo fans hate him; some have already daubed the walls of the club with insults. Every time he comes home to Rio he will be looking over his shoulder.

Vitinho is an idiot.

Still, why would he decide to go to Moscow rather than Porto? At either club he would be richer than he could ever have imagined. But his life at one would be infinitely better than at the other. What advice did he get from his parents? What did his advisers tell him? How much did they make from the deal?

We’ll probably never know the answers. But we do know one thing: Vitinho is an idiot.

 

I came to Recife last year and took a public bus to the Ilha do Retiro to see the Sport-Ponte Preta game.

The ride was more memorable than the game. Passengers were thrown to one side and another as the driver careened round corners. People were quite literally shrieking with fear and begging him to slow down.

I took a taxi home as there was little public transport still running at midnight when the game ended.

On Sunday, I came to Recife’s sparkling new Arena Pernambuco to see Spain play Uruguay in the Confederations Cup. I was taken here and dropped off by an air-conditioned FIFA shuttle bus and got a nice seat in a beautiful stadium.

The two trips were both to see football matches in Recife but the only thing they had in common is 22 players, a ball and the trip along appalling roads filled with pot holes the size of televisions.

Much of the protests that erupted across Brazil last night are not against the World Cup per se. They are directed at the double standard of beautiful new stadiums being built for FIFA at a rush (and huge cost) while the government neglects much more necessary investment in hospitals, schools and sanitation.

This video was made by a friend and that sentiment is summed up by one girl around the 2:40 mark.

“We don’t have health, we don’t have education, we don’t have anything dignified,” she said. “The only thing that they gave us was a stadium.  If our child is sick we don’t want to take him to a stadium. We want education for our children and decent health. We don’t have this in Brazil.”

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