A symposium entitled ‘The Relevance and Impact of FIFA World Cups – 1930-2014’ recently took place at the Home of FIFA in Zurich from 24 to 27 April, in the presence of numerous experts, such as university professors, historians and researchers.
With a little over a year to go until FIFA’s flagship tournament makes its grand return to Brazil, FIFA.com took a closer look at the session dubbed ‘Brazil 1950 – Heros, Villains and the National Team Drama’, run by Bernardo Borges Buarque de Hollanda of the Rio de Janeiro-based Getulio Vargas Foundation.
During his presentation, Buarque de Hollanda stressed “the importance of the construction of the Maracana Stadium for the country, its role in the FIFA World Cup and its impact on football development in Brazil.”
It was in 1946, at the FIFA Congress in Luxembourg, that the decision was taken to grant the 1949 FIFA World Cup™ (eventually pushed back to 1950 to allow the organisers more time) to Brazil. From that point onwards, the government made its intention clear to build a major stadium in the nation’s second largest city.
“Up to then, Rio only had medium-sized stadiums, and they all belonged to clubs. Fluminense’s ground, for example, which held 20,000 fans, or Vasco da Gama’s, which had a capacity of 40,000. The Maracana was a record-breaking achievement, boasting a capacity of 200,000, which equated to ten per cent of Rio's population, covering an area of 190,000 square metres, and involving some 10,000 labourers, who used up 500,000 bags of cement,” explained Buarque de Hollanda.
“In fact, the Maracana would be the most obvious sign of the country’s power and would take on the iconic tag of ‘largest stadium in the world’,” he continued.
Beyond the stadium’s architectural symbolism, the 1950 FIFA World Cup and the Maracana also provided Brazil with an opportunity to show the world that the developing country’s attempts to restore democracy were well under way. “That’s why campaigns promoting good crowd behaviour were launched. Fans were instructed not to cause any trouble, such as throwing objects onto the pitch,” he said.
In addition, the stadium, which was split into two tiers and six sub-divisions, was presented by the authorities at the time as a “way of integrating people that erased differences, by welcoming the people of Rio in all their diversity, be it racial, social, culture or geographical, and placing the rich beside the poor, the old with the young, and blacks with whites,” according to the South American historian.
“The Maracana was seen as a mirror of Brazilian society, and acknowledged as a blend of racial democracy,” he added.But on-pitch events would change the country’s destiny. On 16 July 1950, Brazil suffered an unexpected defeat by Uruguay in the final match, enabling La Celeste to claim the world crown in the process. The trauma went well beyond the loss of a football match.
“It was described as the ‘collective death’ of 200,000 fans. That might seem like an exaggeration, but this FIFA World Cup can only be understood in the light of the bitter disappointment felt after that defeat,” said Buarque de Hollanda.
“It was doubly frustrating, because the team had grown in stature throughout the tournament, beating Yugoslavia 2-0 and Spain 6-1, while Uruguay had benefitted from France withdrawing from their group, a situation that had led to a euphoric atmosphere being generated prior to the last match.”
Observers compared the enormous crowd making its way out of the stadium after the final whistle to a long funeral march. “The authorities had been worried about fan behaviour, but at the end of the match, people traipsed out of the ground in a state of shock and in complete silence. That’s where this notion of ‘collective death’ emerged from.”
Following this disheartening defeat, which became known to all Brazilians as the ‘Maracanazo’, certain home players had the finger of blame pointed at them, especially the goalkeeper, who never quite recovered from the experience.
“Three non-white players in particular were viewed as being to blame, which re-launched the debate on the underlying racism and inferiority complex prevalent in Brazilian society,” analysed the professor.
The coach, authorities and media were also accused of contributing – in various ways – to this hitherto all-conquering side’s failure. In Buarque de Hollanda’s opinion, the demons of 1950 were only exorcised in 1958, “when Brazil’s complex of failure in decisive moments was wiped out by victory in Sweden.”
But the legacy of the 1950 FIFA World Cup was not simply a huge sense of disappointment. Buarque de Hollanda was able to identify three positive outcomes.“The popularisation of clubs from Rio, who could now attract a lot more fans through the gates, an increased national recognition for teams like Santos and Botafogo, who would go on to compete in the Intercontinental Cups of 1962 and 1963 at the Maracana, and finally the adoption of the Maracana’s elliptical shape as a model for numerous stadiums in Brazil.”
Brazilian fans will be hoping that the new Maracana, which has just undergone extensive renovation ahead of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, can soon provide a platform for the type of iconic moments witnessed in the legendary arena in 1950. But they will be forgiven for wishing for a less painful finale.