The Image of Brazil

With the arrival of the Olympic flag in Rio de Janeiro, focus moves to Brazil and its preparations for the 2016 Games. But with the World Cup taking place across the country in 2014, preceded by the smaller Confederations Cup in 2013, observers and commentators are hitting the airwaves and print media with sceptical reports on the preparations. Doom-mongers are casting doubts on Brazil’s ability to be ready in time, pointing out the country’s famous tendency to do things at the last minute, and also the amount of infrastructure which needs to be put in place for all the events to happen.

I am reminded of a private message a friend of mine passed on in summer 2009. He assured me that FIFA had concluded that South Africa would not be ready to host the 2010 World Cup and that an announcement was going to made saying the competition would be moved to Australia. Needless to say my friend was completely wrong – the victim, perhaps, of some colonial-style wishful thinking and a belief that emerging economies cannot organize such mega-events.

For what it is worth, I am convinced the World Cup, the Olympics and all the other events scheduled will all take place on time in Brazil. It is interesting to note that FIFA (and soon, I expect, the IOC too) has full-time staff drafted in to its operational headquarters in Rio to monitor progress at the stadia around Brazil. Closed-circuit television keeps track of the building work going on in each of the twelve cities where matches will be played. The stadia will be ready, although the transport infrastructure needed to get the crowds there in comfort might not be ideal – that’s another story!

We need to remember the warnings about how London’s transport was going to struggle to cope with the influx of visitors for the Olympics. And look what happened – on some days in August it was easier to travel around London than during a quiet weekend in spring. I am more concerned about the communication issues with vast numbers of visitors arriving in Brazil not speaking any Portuguese. Yes, in Rio the authorities are mounting a big campaign to teach English, but these things take time and it will be many years before the average service worker in the Brazil hospitality industry can speak English to the level required for such an influx of visitors. But that’s a whole separate topic, not for this article.

What I find interesting is the tone, content and quality of reporting on Brazil in the British media. This is not a complaint about the absence of reporting: foreign news has dropped down the priorities of editors of most UK newspapers in the last twenty years, unless it is about wars, British nationals committing horrendous acts overseas, or general stories about the US. So I am not surprised at the shortage of reports about Brazil, although it would indeed be good to see more. No, what annoys me are the habitually negative or uninformed reports (with the honourable exceptions of the FT and The Economist) which focus on violence, poverty, slums, or overall inefficiencies. Yes, Brazil has its problems, but so does every country in the world. It would be nice to read stories about successes, discoveries, or human interest, all of which abound in the country.

Clearly Brazil has an image problem. That is because the country is complicated – not surprising for a country of continental proportions with a population nearing 200 million. The most common phrase I heard in my São Paulo office from first-time visiting businessmen was “I had no idea”. The buzz and vitality of the urban megalopolis was not what they had anticipated. Some had even thought they were arriving in a tropical jungle, with no Internet or 21st century sophistication. And spreading the message about Brazil is an uphill struggle at times because of this low level of knowledge. Audiences tend to be impressed by the list of “unknown facts” which I (and colleagues) produce when asked to talk about Brazil. The misunderstandings (sometimes willful but usually accidental) about ethanol are classic examples of how the media have failed to convey the correct image of Brazil. But again, that’s a subject for a longer article!

What I find interesting is the reaction I get from people of all walks of life when I mention that I lived in Brazil. Very few people raise the issues of poverty and violence, which abound in the media. Most people smile and think of the beaches, carnival, football, music, food and so on. I noted the references to Rio towards the end of the London Olympics, and the repeated tone was one of smiling and fun. Few realized there was a Brazilian amongst the bearers of the Olympic flag at the Opening Ceremony, or that she had been a candidate for the presidency in the 2010 election!

Everyone wants to go to Brazil (especially Rio) because they believe Brazil can put on a good party. The consequence of this reaction also has an impact on business opportunities between the UK and Brazil. I have heard from several companies that have shied away from Brazil up to now. Let’s hope this renewed attention will lead to additional business contacts, and that the Chamber will be at the centre of this activity in developing business relations between the UK and Brazil.

Article taken from Brazil Business Brief, Sept 2012.

Countries: Brazil
Topics: Bidding & Tendering, High Value Opportunities, and Major Sporting Events
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