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World Cup could sap Brazil's economy of $13.5 billion as workers skip the office

Soccer fans in Brazil's national team colors wave

Soccer fans in Brazil's national team colors wave as they ride with a life-size cutout of soccer star Neymar, on the Copacabana beachfront in Rio de Janeiro on June 23, 2014. Photo Credit: AP / Leo Correa

Instead of commuting to work, Catia Santiago spent her Monday morning on the golden sands of Rio de Janeiro's Copacabana beach, soaking up the sunshine without a pang of guilt, thanks to the World Cup.

Between Carnival celebrations and a generous smattering of Catholic observances, Brazilians enjoy an extensive calendar of public holidays. But this year, workers are seeing even more time off because of the monthlong international soccer tournament.

The extra holidays are helping clear commuters from Brazil's perennially clogged roads to make it easier for fans travel to and from the stadiums. While many workers such as the sunbathing Santiago have embraced the measure, critics contend it's detrimental for Brazilian businesses.

Fecomercio, a Sao Paulo-based industry group representing the goods, services, and tourism sectors, forecasts that those businesses may lose up to $13.5 billion due to lost productivity and the need to pay double salaries to people who work government-declared holidays. However, Brazil's Tourism Ministry has said the Cup itself will inject that much money into the nation's economy, offsetting any such losses.

With Rio's City Hall declaring full- or half-day holidays on days with matches at the city's famed Maracana stadium, and many businesses shutting down when Brazil's national team plays, last week there were only two regular work days in this city of 12 million. This week will be much the same.

But while business owners railed about their losses, employees were taking full advantage of their free time.

"I'm going to take a hit financially," Santiago, a 35-year-old hair product saleswoman, said as she worked on her tan before Brazil's match against Cameroon in Brasilia. "I'll probably earn about 30 to 50 percent less, but I will have had 200 percent more fun than usual."

Still, not everyone was so enthusiastic.

Another saleswoman, Katia Andrade, a 52-year-old who works for an online data storage company, was fuming about the extra days off.

"The World Cup is literally costing me money," said Andrade, who blames the tournament for putting her way behind on meeting her annual sales goals. "Since the beginning of the year, projects have been lagging behind, with everybody putting things off until after the Cup. And now, with almost every day a public holiday, it's totally impossible to get anything done."

A recent column on the website of Veja, a right-leaning news magazine, called the holidays a "confession of incompetence" — evidence that authorities had to concoct a fix to Brazil's traffic woes rather than build adequate infrastructure.

"The government has seven years to prepare for the event — seven years! Of course they weren't capable," read the column by Rodrigo Constantino. "And now they adopt a typically Brazilian solution, which is jerry-rigging and cobbling together a way out," he said. "This is definitely not a serious country."

But Brazil is not the only country that has seen a Cup-related slowdown. With Chile and Mexico also playing Monday, workers in those countries were also racing home early to devote their undivided attention to the matches.


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