Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was on hand for Thursday's World Cup opener in São Paulo cheering on the home team, which is without a doubt the republic's most popular state entity. Thanks to a fortuitous (or questionable depending upon your perspective) foul in the penalty box that led to a go-ahead goal by phenom Neymar, Brazil was able to secure a 3-1 victory over Croatia.
For the sake of Dilma's political ambitions later this year, Brazil's luck had better continue. Voters will head to the polls on October 5 to decide whether she deserves another term in office, and a poor showing on the international stage could hurt her chances.
Political leaders have long used international sports competitions to stoke nationalism (1934's World Cup in Italy boosted Mussolini and 1978's edition in Argentina gave a temporary lift to the military junta in charge). Sports pride hasn't just been used by authoritarian regimes though. International sensation Didier Drogba and the rest of the Ivory Coast squad used their 2006 World Cup qualification to call for an end to the nation's civil war, which led to a truce between warring factions. The Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in 2002 helped the United States heal after the terror attacks of September 11th.
If the Brazilian squad does falter, though, it wouldn't be the first time an early World Cup exit dealt a severe blow to a ruling party. Senior officials in Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson's administration blamed England's 1970 quarterfinal match loss for their defeat at the polls days later.
This tournament, which is projected to cost $14 billion, has been a strain on public finances and opinion. Protestors have objected to over-budget expenditures that Brazil has spent on multiple poorly constructed stadiums, several of which will see little, if any, activity after the tournament (other than serving as trophies of excess and political largesse). After a boom at the start of the century, Brazil's economy has leveled off. It's unclear whether the games this month will have a positive impact on the economy that offsets its price tag.
It's easy to dismiss this talk by noting that correlation doesn't necessarily equal causation. Having said that, if there's one aspect of people's lives where they allow superstition to have a little extra sway, it's sports.
President Rousseff is undoubtedly rooting for the Pentacampeões to make it six in the hopes that their success helps to ensure that she has a prime seat for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Hon. Mark R. Kennedy (@HonMarkKennedy) is cheering on Team USA and leads George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management. He is also Chairman of the Economic Club of Minnesota. He previously served three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and was Senior Vice President and Treasurer of Federated Department Stores (now Macy's).
Follow Mark R. Kennedy on Twitter: www.twitter.com/HonMarkKennedy