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World Cup will be magical, no thanks to rotten FIFA and an uncaring government

WELL it seemed like a good idea at the time.

This graffiti image  of a thin child crying because he is being served football instead  of food has been the defining image of the World Cup so far.
This graffiti image of a thin child crying because he is being served football instead of food has been the defining image of the World Cup so far.

"To hell with it, let's go to Brazil," they said. "It's the World Cup. Rio. The Maracana. It has to be done. Copacabana beach. Once-in-a-lifetime stuff." Aye. Go on then.

That was how it started. How long ago? Brazil were declared as the host country in October 2007, so it would not have been long after that. With all due respect to Craig Levein then Gordon Strachan, the managers during the qualifying campaign, this was always a trip planned with the assumption that Scotland would cock things up again and fail to reach another World Cup. They did.

Any Scots making the 6000 mile journey over the next couple of weeks (and there are plenty) are doing so as outsiders. But who cares? Since when was there a law that fans need to have a team to support?

Our wee group flies out in a few days. A bit squirreled away each month lessened the pain of flight and accommodation costs - surprisingly reasonable if you book early enough - and now we are almost there. Being at a World Cup is one of the great life experiences. It is hard to think of much beyond a political revolution or the end of a war which can electrify a country like hosting a World Cup, and the jamboree is getting bigger and bolder every four years.

This will be my fifth, three with the privilege of being paid to report on them. It will be hard to surpass the collective excitement which crackled through Germany in the summer of 2006. There was colour and noise everywhere, flags and pennants hanging across streets, train and bus stations heaving with supporters at all hours of the day, people flocking to the parks with their big screens and congregating around pubs and restaurants which had the games on their televisions. Around 80m people live in Germany and it felt as though every one of them was mesmerised.

The population of Brazil is 200m. They have waited 64 years to host a World Cup. Those two facts ought to have the place on the brink of detonation but for months the reports from Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and elsewhere have often been on uglier issues.

For months there have been protests by Brazilian citizens appalled at the expense of building stadiums and infrastructure while the country's poor struggle with the cost of living, are unable to afford public transport, and complain about education, health and public service issues. It is reckoned the Brazilian government is spending over £8bn on hosting the World Cup (FIFA's contribution is about £1.1bn, a quarter of which will be given out as prize money). This in a country where around 12m people live in favela slums.

The iconic image of this World Cup, so far, has been a piece of street graffiti: a thin child sitting at the dinner table, knife and fork in hand, crying because instead of food on his plate there is a football.

Very, very few of the 2.96m tickets sold are in the hands of supporters who equate being at the World Cup with even the remotest endorsement of FIFA, the grotesque, poisoned, defiantly rotten body at the heart of football. It is easy to reconcile being in Brazil for the show with a natural sympathy for those disgusted by the distorted priorities of their government's public spending policies.

As for FIFA, there will be no speeches at the opening ceremony before Brazil play Croatia because president Sepp Blatter and his cohorts know they would be deafened by boos and derision if they tried to gush platitudes about the magic of the Brazilian game.

Under the scum at the top of world football that magic is still there. That is what will draw thousands across the Atlantic just to be there, including the unfortunates among us who arrive like stateless drifters without our team.

A day of reckoning will come for the corrupt within FIFA. All power to those protesting against an uncaring government. And those causes can run parallel with a month of vibrant football.

It is a World Cup in Brazil, seven words to get the juices flowing. Everyone has waited a long, long time for this one.

And Another Thing...

On his crash course on Celtic history Ronny Deila will have been force-fed plenty of Jock Stein by now, but if he has the time he would be well rewarded if he watched the documentary on Parkhead's great leader on BBC Alba at 9pm tonight.

Suggesting that a Norwegian sits down to a Gaelic programme might sound like a bit of a long shot, but 'Jock Stein', produced by purpleTV, is a classy piece of work in anyone's language (the interviews are conducted in English and the narration is subtitled throughout).

The closing few minutes, when some well-known figures painfully recall the circumstances of his death, amount to some of the most powerful sports broadcasting you will see in Scotland this year.

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