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For many, the 2014 World Cup is a missed opportunity to tackle health problems and inequality.

O Jogo Bonito – the Beautiful Game – has turned ugly. Each day in the run-up to the World Cup kick-off in Rio brings fresh reports of protests breaking out on the streets of Brazil. “We need schools, not stadia”, read the placards, “FIFA go home”, “Who is the Cup for?”

It takes a lot for a country like Brazil, where football is an institution, to turn its back on the sport – especially on its own turf. But what’s become clear to many Brazilians is that their country is hosting the World Cup, and they aren’t invited.

More than 10 per cent of Brazil’s population still lives on less than US$2 per day, struggling to access decent healthcare and education. Yet this World Cup is said to be the most expensive to date, costing an estimated US$11 billion – money many feel should be spent on better things. This sentiment was captured by the São Paulo-based street artist Paulo Ito a month before the tournament began, his mural of a crying boy with nothing to eat on his plate but a football becoming an internet sensation.

For those working in the academia programmes across the country, the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games represent a missed opportunity for poorer people in Brazil – the chance to shine a spotlight on the benefits of physical activity, and to provide universal access for both rich and poor to sports and exercise facilities, much like Great Britain aimed to do following the 2012 Olympic Games.

The problem, says Pedro Hallal, is that sports and health are treated separately by different ministries, which means there was no coordinated effort to use the events to boost fitness. Others say there are simply more pressing political priorities, particularly with a general election looming. “Probably our population will not be more active after these events,” says Rildo de Souza Júnior Wanderley, a PhD student administering the academias in Recife. “The government has other problems to solve first. The debate here, it is more about transport and other infrastructure problems.”

Those working with the academia programme have tried to take matters into their own hands. The government had promised to carry out public events in each of the host cities 100 days ahead of the World Cup, says Emmanuelly Lamos, another PhD student working with the academias in Recife. So she and her team planned a celebratory fun run around the outside of the city’s football stadium – which will host the likes of Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico and the USA – for participants of the academias.

“The focus of the Olympics and the World Cup are on sports, rather than physical activity, so I don’t think the Cup will get people more active generally,” Lamos says. But the government could make the most of these sorts of initiatives to turn them into regular events, she said in January. “Some events like this could have a positive effect if the government decided to carry them on afterwards.”

But since then the government withdrew support for the event, Lamos says, so she was forced to scrap the plans.

The news dashed other hopes too – the plan was also to allow the academia participants the perk of a peek inside the stadium, something the vast majority will only be able to do from their TV screens.

Earlier this year, the city said it was not prepared to pay the costs of the FIFA Fan Fests – big screens erected in public places to allow fans who can’t get tickets to watch the games and celebrate together.

And although FIFA has been making some cheap tickets available to Brazilians, few will be able to afford to see the games in their cities, says Wanderley. “The FIFA site offered tickets for 60 Real [around £15]. But they sold too fast and probably only citizens in the middle class could buy them.”

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