By Doug Gray, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – With Brazil finally getting underway in the 2010 World Cup on Tuesday afternoon the city of Rio can now take part in the festivities, and businesses have been making the most of the national fervor with record-breaking sales of soccer-related souvenirs all over the country.
From Leblon to Laranjeiras, Rocinha to Urca, trees have been painted, strips of plastic have been hung, and murals designed in yellow and green all in the name of their beloved soccer team, while in the ever-bustling Sarrá in Centro the shops are filled with a variety of unusual items. Hats, wigs, glasses and, of course, soccer jerseys have been selling in their thousands, but even the controversial vuvuzela, the noisy symbol of the fans’ support in South Africa, have made it to these shores and fill the streets with their buzz.
Tax was waived on many of these World Cup-related items in this part of the city, and horns normally priced at R$30 were being sold for R$18.50, as shop owners eagerly pushed their merchandise onto their customers.
Meanwhile the iconic Sugarloaf Mountain received its own decoration on the eve of the first round match against North Korea, with yellow and green searchlights fanning out from its summit. The illumination was also added to Penha Church and matches those already installed under the overpasses along Flamengo’s Aterro highway.
Many businesses had already witnessed the ‘World Cup Effect’ with sales of items like flat screen televisions increasing by twenty percent in the lead up to the tournament, and those have been followed by items like beverages, plastics and textiles as supporters prepare to get behind their team’s efforts to win a sixth world title.
Blocks of apartments and neighborhood groups have been teaming together to hang huge flags across buildings and streets, stopping cars on main roads for donations to their cause, and everywhere yellow and green plastic flaps in the breeze.
Research by the Federation of Industry of Rio de Janeiro suggests that nine out of ten soccer fans in Rio will spend an average of R$210 following this year’s World Cup, giving a total injection of nearly R$865 million to the state’s economy.
Copacabana braced itself for the arrival of thousands to its sands for Brazil’s opening game, and bars were quick to get on the bandwagon too, with even the chicest offering gimmicky drinks specials to draw the crowds. Barreto Londra, part of the Fasano Hotel on Ipanema beach, produced the “torcedor” (supporter) cocktail, with layers of green and yellow liquid, while members of the Belmonte group of bars were offering two-for-one beers during the Brazil match.
Despite all this, many Cariocas have been feeling flat about their team’s chances. One fan said; “This Cup is already boring. Dunga has picked a dull team, and only Germany look like winning so far.”
After the hype that surrounded the unsuccessful 2006 Brazil team’s efforts in Germany, perhaps this attitude is unsurprising, but it is also in the minority. If the scenes of yellow and green enthusiasm across the city, indeed the country, are anything to go by this year, when Brazil gets its turn hosting the competition for the first time since 1950, there is going to be quite a party in the streets, and once again local business will be the main benefactor.