K E I R   R A D N E D G E   r e p o r t s   f r o m   B R A Z I L

RIO DE JANEIRO: Brazil’s Sports Minister has insisted that World Cup spending is a mere drop in the ocean compared with national spending on social welfare.

Aldo Rebelo, the government’s liaison leader with world federation FIFA, took advantage of a media briefing to speak over the heads of the assembled press and to the hundreds of thousands of protesters who have taken to the streets in the past two weeks.

The country’s largest demonstrations for more than  two decades have focused on a popular sense of imbalance between expenditure on the World Cup project (including the current Confederations Cup) and what is not spent on health, education, crime and transport.

Contrasting images from Brazil this past week

However Rebelo responded by insisting that construction work had been within the national plan as essential for the development of the country over the next decade regardless of the hosting of the Confederations Cup, the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Such developments would improve the prospects for tourism and trade – and hence jobs and wealth creation – not only in the 12 host cities but in the surrounding regions.

Rebelo also explained that the stadia had been built or rebuilt with private funds or with repayable loans from the government’s national development bank.

He said: “Of course there is an ongoing debate on the investment or expenses for the Cup but the federal government has no budget for the stadia.

“What we did was provide loans of up to R400m [£135m] and some of the contractors hired by the operators of the stadia accepted them. Some did not need them as was the case with the Federal Capital of Brasilia which did not want to take a loan from the development bank.”

He estimated that ‘only’ 50pc of the loan fund set aside by the development bank for stadia had been drawn down.

Rebelo then turned to the controversy surrounding comparisons of Cup costs and social welfare expenditure.

He said: “I must emphasise that the budget for health and education is R177bn [£59bn] for this year alone and that the budget for the Sports Ministry represents one per cent of that value – including expenditure for the World Cup and for the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.”

To underline the point, Rebelo added: “Between 2007 and 2013 alone the federal government budget for health and education was R447bn [£150bn]. Therefore the budget assigned to health and education was not used for the World Cup nor was it used to build the stadia.

“The stadia were built using resources from private owners of the stadia or were loans provided by the federal government or government of the states because in some cases the states are owners of the stadia.”

Indeed, he argued that a focus on better health care would result from the upcoming sports events. This would evolve from improved co-operation between the health and sports ministries as well as with other organizations such as the Brazilian heart foundation.

Rebelo also claimed that 24,500 jobs had been created by stadia development projects which had been supported with literacy education and building skills programmes.

Later Rebelo concluded his own ‘performance’ with a wider appeal to the Brazilian people’s pride in their own sporting legacy. He admitted: “There is a lot of inequality in the country,” but pointed out that football had provided a window to a better life for many young “poor young men.”

Brazilian football had also helped lead the fight against racism and discrimination within its own society.

Rebelo even suggested negative reaction to the hosting owed much to the over-exaggerated hopes placed in it.

He said: “We want to preserve football’s true spirit because it offers hope to build an ideal society where rules are there for all and each person relies on both their own talent but also the talent of the team.

“That is why football still represents this fantasy and hope, not only in Brazil but all over the world. That is why people have such high expectations of this World Cup.”