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Global

network Hail and Farewell An awful lot of own goals in Brazil commonwealth Whoever said sport and politics don’t mix had clearly never met Sepp Blatter, the glad-handing president of FIFA and World Cup mastermind, whose art at conjuring up political cocktails is legend. But they can be an explosive brew. When Germany played Argentina in the Brazil World Cup fi nal in July, Chancellor Angela Merkel, the world’s most powerful woman – whom the team call their 12th player – was cheering them on. She hadn’t missed a match. Argentina’s beleaguered President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, presiding over 40 per cent infl ation and an imminent debt default, cheerfully confessed she did not watch any. Argentina lost 1-0. It was worse for Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff. Facing an economic downturn and a presidential election in October, hosting the World Cup was daring Dilma’s secret weapon. She ploughed vast sums into sporting facilities – as a million voters from urban slums marched in protest – and gambled on the political dividend of the home team surging to victory as it had done fi ve times before, signalling the feel-good samba party to end them all. Oh dear. Brazil lost 7-1 to Germany in the semi fi nals. Still, she had at least seen off critics who predicted Brazil could not stage the World Cup and that the stadiums would collapse. And Rousseff had a Plan B. Just days after the ignominious defeat, she was hosting the BRICS summit – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – the club of the world’s most economically promising emerging nations. Sashaying among international leaders does not have quite the political cache of a World Cup win, but it helped restore national pride. Briefl y. Rousseff remained frontrunner in the presidential campaign against Aecio Neves, the Social Democratic leader, until third-running Socialist candidate Eduardo Campos died tragically in a plane crash. He was replaced by the charismatic Marina Silva, blowing the race open. The acronym apart, little unites BRICS, except self-interest. And President Rousseff was not alone in having her own agenda. For Russia’s Vladimir Putin, now a pariah president, excluded from the G7 summit and facing Western sanctions after annexing Crimea, it was good to come 88 l www.global -br ief ing.org four th quar ter 2014 global in from the cold. And possibly learn some political lessons – Russia hosts the next World Cup. For President Xi Jinping, it was a chance to consolidate China’s soft power infl uence by being chief fi nancier to a new BRICS bank – a sort of mini International Monetary Fund – free of US dominance in Barack Obama’s backyard. Brazil was a platform, too, for Jacob Zuma. Not only could South Africa’s reelected president share credit – if not to draw it – for the new bank, mooted at the 2013 Durban summit, he could watch the World Cup. Zuma’s soccer credentials cannot be doubted: the £17.6 million refurbishment of his home, largely at public expense as essential security upgrades, included two football pitches – plus a helipad, entertainment complex, gym and space for four wives. But for all the BRICS leaders it was an opportunity to get the measure of India’s new Premier Narendra Modi, leader of the world’s largest democracy and the man who could get BRICS moving as an economic force. His plan is to build digital India, retaking the ground conceded to China in the race to economic greatness. He started well in Brazil: the new bank will be run by an Indian. The tea-seller’s son stormed to victory in May as head of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), crushing the rival Congress party and ending the Nehru-Gandhi era. He is India’s great hope, having trebled the economic fortunes of Gujarat as chief minister, but still something of an enigma. His key Independence Day speech in August was more than an hour of rhetorical magic, promising bank accounts for all and calling for a ten-year moratorium on communal violence. For all his humble background, he has the instincts of a Ming emperor, centralising power, running the show, relentlessly chasing ministers and dining alone – a habit he shares with Vladimir Putin. It is not the only one. His critics paint him as a neo-fascist, citing his failure to prevent ethnic violence in Gujarat in 2002, when thousands of Muslims died or were displaced. It led the USA to once refuse him a visa. But Muslims voted for him in the presidential election. Modi is now wooed by the White House. A Global diary Angela Merkel Above: Barack Obama Below: Narendra Modi ,Edu- ,presiden- © European Union Narendra Modi Creative Commons by 2.0


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