BAHIA, BRAZIL — With all the negativity surrounding the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, it’s easy to forgot what it was that brought the tournament here in the first place: soccer.
Before the concerns about infrastructure, stadiums, transportation, government distrust and overall cost of the world’s sporting event, there was the simply the game, and the Brazilians’ undying love for it.
On Thursday afternoon in Bahia, adidas gave me the official match ball for next summer’s World Cup. Little did I know that the ball would prove to be the apple in the eye of every Brazilian I met that day.
Every few feet, someone wanted to hold it and take a picture with it. A couple of local volunteers looked like they might cry when they had to part with it. You could see the unbridled joy in just the way people looked at what adidas is calling the “brazuca” – it’s like a holy grail to Brazilians.
There was young girl who asked me if it was the “oficial brazuca,” and her jaw nearly dropping to the floor when I told her yes. And when she held it, she jumped around like it was Christmas morning.
There were the two children so small they could barely wrap their arms around it, beaming with delight as they desperately held on tight.
There was the waitress who, after a few minutes of gesturing and attempts to explain what she wanted, gave me her email so I could send her a copy of the photograph I took of her holding it.
There was the chef who took a break to come all the way out of the kitchen to the dining area just to hold, juggle and take a picture with the ball.
There was the cheeky little boy that jokingly tried to run off with it – twice.
Despite ever-growing concern and frustration with Brazil’s World Cup, the Brazilians’ excitement and joy from something as simple as the brazuca made it clear that if there is one thing this country can find happiness in, it’s soccer.