RIO DE JANEIRO — There may be no better barometer of Brazil’s enthusiasm — or lack thereof — for the World Cup than Jorge Rudge Street.
Every four years, months before the start of the tournament, which Brazil has won more than any other country, residents spend their nights painting murals and hanging green and yellow pennants between light poles along the street, in the working class neighborhood of Vila Isabel.
A big screen is set up for watch parties that often include performances by famous musicians.
Not this year.
Breaking a four-decade tradition, Jorge Rudge is not glammed up for the World Cup.
“We won a competition for best decorated street five times,” said Jarbas Ramos, 56, who has lived on the street since he was 20. “This year, I’m not excited.”
As the World Cup gets underway, Brazilians are strikingly blasé about it. A slow recovery from a crippling yearslong recession, an epidemic of violence that has rattled much of the country and turbulent politics ahead of October’s presidential election have left much of the country in a funk.
A survey published this month by the Datafolha polling firm showed that 53 percent of Brazilians said they were not interested in the World Cup this year, the highest rate since the question was first asked in 1994.
What makes this particularly striking is Brazil’s team, whose first game is on Sunday against Switzerland, is among the strongest it has sent to a World Cup, which it has won five times. The team includes several of the world’s top-rated players and its coach, known as Tite, is a darling of sports commentators.
Yet the gloomy spirits on Jorge Rudge Street are far from the exception. Relatively few Brazilians have hung the customary green and yellow signs over their windows, and it’s rare to see cars with tiny Brazilian flags, normally ubiquitous during World Cups.
Ramos said his neighborhood had become too violent to spend the night outside painting murals. In the first two months of 2018, 15 people were murdered each day in the state of Rio de Janeiro.
The country’s slow and uneven recovery from a nearly three-year recession has not helped. Ramos is among the 13.1 percent of Brazilians — a rising number — who are unemployed.
“The World Cup has a lot to do with national pride,” said Renata Mendonça, one of the founders of Dibradoras, a sports website. “The crisis we have been facing since 2014 is nonstop, and this affects the relationship between supporters and the national team.”
That year — when Brazil was the host of the World Cup — marked the start of a bleak era in the country.
Investigators exposed a widespread corruption scandal known as Lava Jato, or Operation Car Wash, which has implicated more than 100 politicians, including President Michel Temer.
The first signs of an economic contraction that fueled unrest — and contributed to the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff in 2016 — were being felt.
And no one here has forgotten Brazil’s humiliating 7-1 defeat in the semifinals against Germany, the eventual tournament champion.
“After that 7 to 1, we got a bit discouraged,” Ramos said. “They have to win back their credibility.”
Brazil’s soccer fever has caught on during other trying eras. In 1994, for instance, the president, Fernando Collor, had just been impeached and inflation was out of control. Yet, that year only 20 percent of Brazilians said they were disinterested in the World Cup, which Brazil won.
So what gives?
Ramos, who claims to “love, love” soccer, said he could barely name the players on the current team.
“There aren’t any players from Flamengo, so I won’t know it by heart, ” he said, referring to his local club, which has the biggest fan base in the country.
In fact, all but three of the members of the national team have been playing for clubs outside Brazil.
“The average for this team is players leaving Brazil when they are 21,” said Fernando Ferreira, from Pluri Consultoria, a sports-consultancy group. “They don’t create any type of identity with the fans. No one really knows these players, or they know them very little.”
Neymar, the striker, left for Barcelona when he was 21. Marcelo, a left back, went to play for Real Madrid when he was 18. For the first time, one of the team’s players, the goalkeeper Ederson, has never played in Brazil professionally.
“We export players as we do soy and ore,” Ferreira said. “There is a great transformation in soccer, and big corporations are diving in.”
The funk seems to have permeated all of soccer here, not just the World Cup. Local soccer teams often play in nearly empty stadiums.
The average attendance for a soccer match in Brazil last year was 6,568, a 6 percent drop from 2016, according to Pluri Consultoria. That number is well below that of other soccer-loving countries like England (24,677) and Germany (31,617).
Bruno Spindel, the head of Flamengo, one of the few Brazilian teams doing well financially, admitted that “clubs haven’t taken care of their product.”
Last Wednesday, a match between Fluminense and Santos attracted 7,438 fans, filling barely 10 percent of the Maracanã, Brazil’s most famous soccer stadium. The teams, which launched the careers of Neymar and Marcelo, did not have a terribly impressive night.
“This team is so weak!” Raul Marques, a 69-year-old Fluminense fan, yelled to another grumpy-looking spectator. “There isn’t a single good player.”
Marques said that he was frustrated with the quality of soccer, and that he kept going to the stadium only because, as a senior citizen, he can get in for free.
Many here complain that tickets have become too expensive since stadiums were renovated for the 2014 World Cup. Spindel, from Flamengo, said reducing costs was a challenge.
But to Marques, the problem is that the game has lost its essence. He said he was more excited about Brazil’s volleyball team facing Italy last Thursday than about the World Cup.
“People who are my age, above 60, we’ve seen a lot of good players here,” he said. “Now the good players are all abroad. They don’t play for love anymore.”
Of course, a solid performance by Brazil’s team — which here means moving very deep into the tournament — might be just what the country needs to rekindle its passion. The Datafolha poll showed that 48 percent of Brazilians think their team is the favorite to win the title.
“If Brazil plays well, the feeling will catch on,” Mendonça said. “People will be proud of seeing a beautiful game.”