Some of you may have noticed that the World Cup will start next month, in Brazil. In England, there has been some concern about the level of violence in Brazil, as well as the heat in Manaus, where England will be playing at least one of their opening round games en route to the first elimination round whence they can crash and burn and return home in disgrace.
Just to be safe, England manager Roy Hodgson started in on the complaints and excuses last December:
England must travel 1,777 miles to the Amazonian city from their chosen base in Rio for their opening Group D match against Italy on 14 June.
"From the coaches I spoke to, we all agree that Manaus is not an ideal place to play football," said Hodgson.Temperatures in the region reach 30C [~85F], while humidity is about 80%. [Editorial note: that is not hot.]
Four World Cup games will be played in the city's specially constructed Arena da Amazonia stadium.
Then he went on a trip to find out if it was as bad as he thought and also try and calm down grumpy local politicians:
Hodgson, of course, has form in the field of unintentionally upsetting the people of Manaus and while the flimsy pretext of his trip to the city was an inspection of the facilities his players and backroom staff will have at their disposal, official FA video footage suggests the main motivation was the forging of an entente cordiale with Arthur Virgílio Neto, the city's mayor.
A politician with a history of calling out the (not so) good and the (not so) great of his country for corruption in high office, Neto had taken grave exception to Hodgson's eminently sensible concerns that football matches played in a city with sweltering temperatures and humidity of up to 80% are challenges that his pasty northern European charges might like to avoid.
In a world where increasing numbers of people seem determined to take offence where none is intended [emphasis mine], particularly in matters pertaining to the very serious subject of football, Neto seemed to wilfully misinterpret Hodgson's remarks as an outrageous slur on the good people of Manaus, their city and its weather. "We would also prefer that England doesn't come," he said, stopping just short of referring to Hodgson as a silly English pig-dog and ordering him to boil his own bottom. "Fortunately the English people are different to Mr Hodgson. It's polite to be able to value what is beautiful and nothing is more beautiful than Amazonia, Amazonas and Manaus."
Well, I'm glad that blew over... Oh dear.
"I do not think that the English face greater risks than they see in Iraq or Afghanistan, where they recently lost hundreds of young soldiers … There is an English cemetery in Recife, but I do not think its population will increase during the World Cup" – Brazil's sports minister Aldo Rebelo decides these references are the best way to convince people the World Cup will be safe. And there's more. "The English got used to hot temperatures during the colonial era – and the Iraq war," he hole-dug in reference to the heat in Manaus.
Ah, there's nothing like sport to increase international understanding and comity.
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