The World Cup’s over but some won’t leave

2014-07-25 08:21

Lucas Bazan Pontoni rifled through his pockets for the 45-cent lunch fee as he stood in line at a downtown soup kitchen. When he came up short, an acquaintance sprang for the government-subsidised meal.

One of about 160 000 Argentines who flooded into Brazil for the World Cup, Pontoni hardly fits the image of deep-pocketed foreigners who dropped about $3 billion (R31,5 billion) in Brazil during the monthlong tournament.

The 23-year-old actor is broke, and he has no immediate plans to return home almost two weeks after Germany beat Argentina in the July 13 final.

“Brazil is amazing and I want to stay,” said Pontoni, who had been camping out in Rio’s Sambadrome Carnival parade grounds, lunching at soup kitchens and searching for an odd job to cover bus fare to see northern Brazil. “It could be weeks or months or longer. I’m going to see where life and the road take me.”

Local media reports say tens of thousands of Argentine fans remain in the country. They appear to be overwhelmingly young and male: most are in their 20s, and less than a third of them are women.

Brazil’s federal police did not respond to email and telephone requests seeking confirmation of how many Argentines are still here. But the prospect of a large number of foreigners selling handicrafts, juggling at intersections for handouts or relying on government social services for poor Brazilians has officials worried.

Although Brazil’s once-gangbuster economy has slowed in recent years, the situation is far better than that in crisis-wracked Argentina, which has a shortage of dollars and one of the world’s highest inflation rates.

Antonio Pedro Figueira de Mello, who heads Rio’s tourism promotion agency, has acknowledged that controls along Brazil’s 1 260?km land border with its southern neighbour may have been too lax during the tournament.

“We were taken by surprise” by the influx of Argentines, the Rio newspaper O Globo quoted Mello as saying. “In any place in the world, people have to state where they’re going, how much time they’re staying, what resources they have and whether they have health insurance. That was not done.”

Argentines don’t need a visa, or even a passport, to visit Brazil. A government ID card will do.

The Argentines are not the only World Cup fans intent on remaining in Brazil.

Last week, police in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul said several hundred fans from the West African nation of Ghana applied for asylum after coming in on tourist visas to follow their national team. Brazil is studying the applications.

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