Andres Oppenheimer

Andres Oppenheimer: World Cup has been a failure for Brazil

The World Cup is far from over, but it’s not too early to declare it a failure for Brazil: The country has missed a golden opportunity to rebrand itself as an emerging technological power, and to upgrade its stereotype of being the nation of carnival, beaches and soccer.

Here are some of the stories you are not hearing from the more than 5,000 journalists from 70 countries who have traveled to Brazil to cover the world’s biggest sporting event, and who in recent weeks — before the opening of the games — have written extensively about the country:

• Brazil is one of the world’s leading aircraft manufacturers. It’s Embraer aircraft maker is the world leader in production of mid-size passenger planes, which it sells to American Airlines, United Airlines, Air France, Lufthansa and nearly 80 other commercial airlines.

• Brazil’s state-run Embrapa research institute is one of the world’s leading agricultural research centers. It has developed, among other things, an acidic-soil-adapted soybean plant that has helped the country become one of the world’s biggest soybean exporters.

• Brazil has recently unveiled its “Startup Brazil” program aimed at turning the country into a world-class innovation center. Under the program, domestic and foreign high-tech startup companies can get nearly $100,000 in government aid, plus free office space. Hundreds of U.S. and European entrepreneurs have already applied, Startup Brazil officials say.

• Brazil also recently started a “Science without Borders” program to send 101,000 university students to pursue graduate degrees in mostly U.S. and European universities. The program is aimed at helping Brazil, which already produces 10,000 PhDs a year, get more foreign-trained PhDs in science and engineering.

• Earlier this year, the Brazilian Congress passed a groundbreaking 20-point National Education Plan, which is aimed at increasing public investment in education to 10 percent of the country’s gross domestic product over the next decade. By comparison, most countries spend 4 or 5 percent of their GDP on education. The plan is awaiting the signature of President Dilma Rousseff.

These and other Brazilian moves could help Brazil become a major emerging technological power. But, unfortunately, Rousseff has not been able to get that message out during the World Cup.

Granted, it was difficult for the government to portray an image of high-tech progress at a time when there were social protests on the streets, and some stadiums remained unfinished by the time of the Cup’s inauguration.

But Rousseff could have used the days before the World Cup to make major technology-related announcements, stage photo opportunities of Brazil’s national soccer team in front of the country’s technological powerhouses, or suggested a more futuristic World Cup logo to stress the country’s economic potential.

Brazil’s World Cup logo shows three converging hands — in fact, they look like salad forks — surrounding a soccer ball that represent friendliness and unity. That’s great, but it doesn’t add much to Brazil’s existing image as a warm, friendly country.

Simon Anholt, a British consultant who publishes a massive annual “nation brand index” about how countries are perceived around the world, told me that Brazil has a relatively good, but “soft” international image.

“Brazil is a country that is regarded as decorative, but not useful,” Anholt said. “That’s bad for Brazil, because it limits its economic potential.”

In the latest Anholt GFK Roper Nation Brand Index, Brazil — the world’s sixth-largest economy — ranked 20 out of 50 countries in the index’s overall ranking. It ranks 10th in the world in culture but is placed below 20 when foreigners are asked if they would buy a Brazilian car.

That means that it is easy for Brazilian companies to sell vacations, or music, but harder to sell computer software. Embraer is an exception to the rule, because it doesn’t sell its aircraft to private consumers, Anholt said.

My opinion: Brazil may still win the World Cup, and the celebrations that would make front pages around the world would not hurt its image at all. On the contrary, the ecstatic faces of Brazilian fans and the dancing on the streets would move more people across the globe to think of Brazil when choosing a vacation destination.

That would be both a triumph and a tragedy for Brazil. The tragedy is that Brazil has lost a magnificent opportunity to show itself to the world as a country that already can do much more than samba.