With a week still to go at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, the impact the event is having in the host nation is already being felt. This Sunday, with four tournament matches still to be fought, the FIFA Secretary General Jérôme Valcke attended the opening ceremony of the reformed CEJU (Youth Sports Centre), an area that will be home to four official pitches dedicated to grassroots and women's football in Belem.
It represents kick off for activities that the 2014 FIFA World Cup Legacy Fund is set to promote across the country. And the location of the first project, in the capital city of Para state, was not chosen at random. In terms of projects aimed at football infrastructure, the fund will focus on the 15 states that were not home to host cities for the grand tournament itself.
“Why are we in Belem today? To see the other side of the World Cup, and how the money it generates is put into development projects,” said Valcke. “We have organised the World Cup and yes, the best-ever World Cup, which is still being played out, but we are starting its legacy right now, and this is not limited to 12 stadiums. The World Cup must be for everyone and Brazil as a whole. We begin here in Belem, but we are heading for all of the other states.”
These investments started with the construction of four football pitches – three with artificial turf, one real grass – through the reforming of the CEJU, a youth centre located next to the Para Olympic Stadium, the famous Mangueirao. Work to reform the site continues, but local children already managed to have a kick-around on one of the pitches soon after the ceremony, which was also attended by the Chairman of the Brazilian Football Confederation and the Local Organising Committee, José Maria Marin; 2002 World Cup winning captain, Cafu; President of the Para Football Federation, Antonio Carlos Nunes; and representatives of the local government and CEJU Belem.
“I see these pitches being built and I start imagining how many new star players will emerge from here. It would be a way of honouring the traditions of Para football, which has already given us such big names as former Santos and Barcelona midfielder Giovanni, and today Paulo Henrique Ganso, who plays for Sao Paulo,” Marin said. “It's important to highlight this: the World Cup goes way beyond the tournament and is a watershed moment for our local football. We will reap the rewards of all of the investment made.”
A new stage
One of the boys dreaming of such a future is 11-year-old Danilo Silva, who lives in the Parque Verde district. Just one of Neymar's many fans, he visited CEJU for the first time this Sunday and said he was amazed. “It will be the only thing we have to train here. I'm a lot more used to playing in the streets,” says the young Paysandu FC fan, one of the biggest clubs in the city, alongside Remo FC. Thirteen-year-old Daiane Cristina, who lives right next to the Mangueirao stadium, is also making the change from tarmac to turf. What does she make of the new centre now she has seen it up close? “If I can, I'll come and play here every day. It's a lot more organised, and much safer, without the risk of people hurting themselves."
Work now starting in Belem will eventually make its mark in every state in the country. Its reach goes beyond infrastructure, also encompassing efforts aimed at fostering growth of both women's and grassroots football, as well as preventative healthcare, public health and social programmes for underprivileged communities. These projects will be approved in line with FIFA's development strategies.
“I've always been someone who defends the legacy that the World Cup can leave in a country, for our children's sake," said Cafu. "Today we have living proof, by means of the Para Federation, which has had the chance to bring enormous happiness to the young people who are here,” added the former player, who works with around 750 youngsters at his institute in Sao Paulo. “It's what we need most: a right to equality for everyone. We can achieve that with these sports centres. The World Cup will be over in a week's time, but our own World Cup will continue.”
The idea to create a FIFA World Cup Legacy Fund came after the 2010 tournament, with the objective of promoting and guaranteeing the development of South African football and financing social initiatives that use sports as a tool.
In Brazil, the first contribution to this fund will be US$20 million (around R$44.3 million at Sunday's exchange rate), but the total amount will be defined after the Brazil 2014 financial results have been calculated. Investment is expected to reach the US$100 million (R$221 million) mark. “The difference is that here in Brazil we began before [the tournament],” Valcke noted. “The World Cup will endure. You will be able to see the benefits of this legacy everywhere and for many years to come.”