Belo Horizonte: News crews from around the world may have flocked to cover Neymar’s foot operation but some Brazilians would rather see the spotlight on the country’s woes.
No-one here doubts the talent of the 26-year-old star of the Brazilian national team and Paris Saint-Germain. But people are sick of seeing him treated like a pampered rich kid.
The sport’s most expensive player ever underwent surgery on Saturday at Mater Dei hospital in the southeastern city of Belo Horizonte. The private, ultra-modern facility’s tinted windows make it look more like an office building. The roof boasts a chopper pad, which Neymar used when he was released from the hospital on Sunday.
Across the street is a decrepit maternity hospital called Odete Valadares. Like most state-run hospitals in Brazil, it is short on staff and all kinds of equipment, even beds. The pale pink paint is peeling. Several windows are broken.
“We need more beds in the neo-natal emergency room. Sometimes patients have to sleep on cots," said Dr. Klaus Morales on Facebook the day of Neymar’s surgery on a broken metatarsal. “Fifty meters from here in the Mater Dei hospital, Neymar will undergo surgery on a toe," Morales wrote. “Helicopters are flying over the area non-stop and the news media focus only on this, while our patients here must wait hours to be treated," said Morales.
The situation was disgraceful, he added.
Dozens of camera crews staked out spots for hours outside the Mater Dei hospital while Neymar was inside —the fate of Brazil team at this year’s World Cup finals could rest on him making a full recovery. And Neymar’s teammates will sorely miss him when they take on Real Madrid in the Champions League on Tuesday.
But no-one was covering the problems that many Brazilians face, said Priscila Silveira, a 28-year-old government employee in Belo Horizonte. “The public health system is in a state of crisis and we have major crime problems that do not get the attention they deserve in the news media," she said.
Brazil has one of the world’s highest homicide rates, and after two years of recession that is just now beginning to ease, the jobless rate is almost 12%.
“For us it is hard to see a public figure abroad such as Neymar while we here are suffering because of so many things, such as violence, muggings every day, a terrible public education system, besides all the problems with corruption," said Aderaldo Pulquerio, 47, a maintenance worker.
The same gripes are heard in Rio de Janeiro, where Geraldo de Oliveira, a 62-year-old taxi driver, could not disguise his anger. “It is minor surgery on a toe. If that happened to the rest of us, we would not manage to be operated on or treated. But since that guy has money, he can do it," said de Oliveira.
Among the Neymar fans who turned out Saturday at the Mater Dei hospital was a man in a wheelchair named Sanderson. He carried a sign that read: “I broke my heel and knee. I need your support and that of your medical team."
Neymar began rehab Sunday at his $10 million home on the coast near Rio. His neighbours include celebrities and politicians accused of corruption. This does not help his popularity, although the player caters to younger fans on social media, always with a touch of glamour and controversy.
On Friday, the day before his surgery, Neymar published on Instagram a photo in which he is seen giving his girlfriend Bruna Marquezine, an actress, a passionate kiss as she sits on him in a wheelchair.