Contrary to popular belief, I am not actually attending any World Cup matches. I’m maintaining a strict personal rule to not pay a single cent to FIFA during this World Cup, while totally supporting others who do decide to have a blast in the stadiums (as I did four years ago in South Africa). For football matches that take millions of people around the globe on an emotional rollercoaster together, as only World Cup football matches do, there is nothing else in the world like being in the arena commanding all of that energy and attention. That’s true even if you end up watching half the match on the big stadium screens because you’re so high up in the cloud-level seating you can barely see the ball on the pitch below. It’s an experience all fans of football and/or having fun should be able to have, and it’s ridiculous that ticket prices exclude many Brazilians from attending.
Where else are people watching the games? It might be quicker to list places where people are NOT watching the games: null set. I have concluded that one can more or less watch a full game by walking down an average street in Rio. Every bar, cafe, and boteco has the TV on football, no matter what team is playing. Yesterday, the first day since the tournament started to have no games scheduled, every bar, cafe and boteco had the TV on football highlights and analysis. All. Day. Long. And to be clear, that means that you’ll catch the football playing in one of every two or three businesses on a main street. My friends and I basically watched – or at least heard via the ‘ooh’s and ‘ahh’s and ‘ARRRGHHH’s – the first half of Argentina-Iran on our walk through Vidigal up to the Dois Irmãos trail last weekend.
Then there’s the official FIFA Fanfest, an overcrowded, hyper-commercialized fenced-in zone where you will be shoved continually by people convinced that there’s a better spot for actually seeing the screen just twenty feet further into the masses; where you will get beer thrown on you if a goal is scored or if the people next to you incorrectly thought a goal was scored; and where you will realize that the man standing behind you has just pissed into his empty FIFA Fanfest 2014 cup. It’s awesome. It’s hands-down the best place for imitation stadium atmosphere. There’s (*okay, fine, “there were”….) the raucous English fans who are mind-bogglingly incapable of singing Hey Jude’s “naaa, na na, nanananaaaa” as a coordinated group, but whose ability to drown out opposing fans with hilarious lyrics is second to none. There’s the Americans who haven’t really played this sport (well) for long enough to have very good songs, but who have perfected the ability to build and belt the sentence, “I believe that we will win,” one complicated word at a time. Until today, there were the Chileans, whose “CHI-CHI-CHI-CHIIIILE!” definitely wins for most contagiously awesome chant. And then the Brazilian fans, who set off fireworks after every goal, after every Brazilian penalty converted today, after every Chilean penalty kick saved, and whenever they feel like it’s been a few minutes since they last set off fireworks.
The fanfest is also somewhat of a sausagefest. It would be great to get more women attending sports viewing events (and, obviously, playing sports too, ideally with greater attention to women’s games), in part because a greater female audience would demand less sexism in the sport and more respect from male fans. Until that happens, though, the FIFA Fanfest remains one of those rare gems where the line for the toilet is long for men and non-existent for women.
Then there’s the people who have to work during games, like bus drivers. I got onto a bus the other day in time to see the driver check out a few seconds of a game on his phone while he was paused at the stop. To my horror, when I next looked his way he was still looking at his phone, by which point we were cruising down the road. Likewise, many taxi drivers catch the games on small screens on their dashboards. This country is certifiably football crazy.