World Cup 2014: Soccerex setback for Brazil and Fifa

By Ben SmithBBC Sport
Protestors with Brazil flags

On the face of it, the news that a prestigious football industry conference has been cancelled is unlikely to raise too many eyebrows.

But when Soccerex is called off in Rio de Janeiro, seven months before Brazil hosts the World Cup, and organisers claim the reason they have been given is "ongoing civil unrest", it becomes a different matter.

That explanation is disputed by the State of Rio and World Cup organisers Fifa, who both claim this is a financial decision. The truth is somewhere in between.

Whatever the reason, no one can argue with the message this setback has sent out to the world with one of the planet's biggest sporting events looming on the horizon.

Rightly or wrongly, it has added to the growing sense that next summer's World Cup is going to be fraught with difficulties.

This is a setback for Brazil and for Fifa and adds to the sense that both face a huge challenge to win an increasingly difficult logistical and public relations battle.

Brazil is not unsafe but the political situation in the country remains tense, with the latest clashes between police and protestors focused on teachers' pay and working conditions.

Even as the announcement that Soccerex had been cancelled was being made, protestors from the Black Bloc group took to the streets in more than a dozen Brazilian cities to mark Guy Fawkes day - with many of them wearing Guy Fawkes masks to cover their faces during recent clashes.

In October, banks were targeted, police cars torched and thousands of protestors took to the streets. But these incidents remain sporadic and isolated, harder to find than to avoid, the exception to normal daily life rather than the rule.

Eron Morales de Melo, one of the protestors on the streets in Rio on Tuesday, said he was not against the World Cup, but did not want public money to fund it.

"We love the World Cup, we love sports - what we don't accept is a government which wants to look good by investing millions in the World Cup but forgets about health and public education," Melo said.

The Confederations Cup was a glimpse of what might befall the World Cup next summer, when the eyes of the world will be on Brazil. On that occasion, the brilliance of Brazil's national team united the country and football won the day - just.

But these protests are not going away. The cancellation of Soccerex is a symbol of a changing Brazil. Sources close to the conference have told the BBC that the reason for the cancellation is down to the Rio State Government no longer feeling able to justify spending money on football events because of the pressure they are coming under from the protests.

'A World Cup for who?' became a slogan for the protestors last summer and Brazilians, especially the younger generation, are living in a new age of empowerment.

They believe they can improve the country and redress the balance between rich and poor, by applying pressure on their leaders while the rest of the world is watching.

There were violent scenes in Rio only last month

They want improvement to schools, hospitals and public services. They want teachers and nurses to be better paid. They are questioning why Brazil is spending billions on building stadiums, when normal people are struggling to live their day-to-day lives. Changes have been promised, but nothing in Brazil happens quickly.

Another aspect to this, is the confusion and chaos that reigns in Brazilian politics. As England found last summer when their friendly with Brazil at the Maracana was still in doubt over safety fears as they boarded the plane - nothing is easy.

On that occasion a Rio state prosecutor persuaded a judge to prevent the game going ahead because the local government had failed to receive confirmation that construction work on the ground had been finalised.

At the time, the Rio government said in a statement: "All the safety requirements for the England-Brazil friendly were fulfilled but were not handed in due to a bureaucratic lapse." Lapses such as these happen frequently.

Soccerex is the latest to fall victim. Organisers first got wind there was a problem in Rio three weeks ago and immediately flew to Brazil for talks. But three weeks later, they were forced to admit defeat and cancel guests, who included England manager Roy Hodgson.

Next summer's World Cup will be a magnificent, memorable tournament even if it is targeted by protests. Brazilians have a passion for football that few countries can match and that will infect every second of the competition.

But senior figures are aware that the 2014 World Cup will be a massive challenge, while some are preoccupied with the problems facing them in Qatar in 2022. For now their focus is firmly on Brazil.