Last year during the Confederations Cup, the tournament that is used as the warm-up to the World Cup, the Brazilian team won their Group Stage handily by beating Japan, Mexico and Italy. They then beat their historic rival, Uruguay, 2-1 in the semi-final. In the other semi-final, Spain dispatched Italy in penalty kicks to set up a final between two of the best teams in the world. In the final, the Cariocas thrashed Spain by a score line of 3-0 to win the Cup for the third consecutive time.
The final was played in the Maracanã, one of soccer’s most legendary stadiums. As is usual in most games, the Spanish, who many cognoscenti have called the best team in the history of soccer (Spain had won the 2008 and 2012 European championships, and the 2010 World Cup sandwiched in between, a feat never equaled before), dominated possession but could not score. Brazil used a stunningly fast counter-attacking game and kept the Spanish off-balance. Brazil’s Fred scored early in the first while the Carioca’s best known and most talented player, Neymar, scored at the end of the half. Fred’s score in the 47th minute to seal the Brazilian rout of the Spanish.
But even before the Scratch Du Oro started scorching the opposition on the pitch, the Brazilian street was heating up as people took to the streets in protest over the amount of money being spent on the upcoming the World Cup the following year and the Olympics in 2016. The protests quickly grew in number and reportedly a million people marched in many Brazilians town and cities as the tournament progressed. The disenchantment spread from spending on the upcoming sporting spectacles to the government’s financial mismanagement of the country.
The protests centered around the amount of money being spent and raised many questions. Why was the Brazilian government spending millions building new stadiums for the upcoming World Cup, but nothing was being done to poverty, health care, and education? Why were new hotels being built to accommodate the tourists for the upcoming sporting spectacles but people continued to live in squalor in the favelas? And why were many of the same favelas being “sanitized” by the use of almost military like tactics, all with the purpose of building “safe zones” to facilitate the tourism boom expected. Who was this Cup being really staged for?
The idea that the protests were happening during a soccer tournament in which their country was in the process of winning was mind boggling. In no other country is soccer intertwined into the culture as much as it is in Brazil. Rather than rallying in the streets in celebration of their success of the team, the people were protesting the impact on society that hosting these sporting spectacles poses.
The protests from last year beg the following question: Is Brazilian discontent so deep so as to disrupt the World Cup itself? Could the protests from last year carry forward to have any impact during the games this June?
Just before the start of the World Cup, there are signs that this is exactly what is going to happen. Mass rallies are being organized using the twitter hashtag slogan #NãoVaiTerCopa, or “There will be no Cup.”
In the last couple of months, much publicity has been created by an occupation of nearly 10,000 people of a lot next to Arena Corinthians in Sao Paolo, site of the World Cup’s opening match between Brazil and Croatia. The occupation has been dubbed “The People’s Cup” and their main complaint is the half billion dollars were spent to renovate the arena to qualify it as a “FIFA Standard Stadium”, money which could have been used to address any of the country’s other pressing needs, such as health care, transportation, or education.
Protests also took to the streets last Thursday in Sao Paolo to protest the aforementioned squandering of funds, mandate that prohibits local vendors from selling food and drink near World Cup venues, the elimination of standing-room only seating at the stadiums, and even new anti-protest laws. Giants slides were projected against a twelve story building. One slide read “FIFA are terrorists” and another “Who’s the Cup really for?” The protests began peacefully but ended in clashes with police.
Another organizing slogan at the protests are “the three D’s’”: displacement, debt and defense. This World Cup is now the most expensive in history. It’s estimate cost of nearly 15 billion dollars, nearly three times the cost of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, and more than twice the cost of the 2006 World Cup in Germany. The security forces that will be deployed are rumored to be near 120,000, which a nearly 20% increase from that seen in South Africa in 2010. Thousands of people have been displaced in order to build stadiums and the adjoining “safe zones.”
Brazil’s President Dilma Rouseff and her ruling Workers Party face a potentially difficult situation, especially if she decides to continue to use force to squelch the growing discontent. Brazil’s Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo proclaimed in March that any anger would melt away by the time the Cup was underway, stating “People will be more concerned with celebrating rather than protesting.”
But the moment seems to suggest the opposite. It appears as if critical mass is building towards continuing unrest. The Brazilian people seem poised to do the unbelievable in a soccer obsessed nation, to disrupt soccer’s marquee event as the entire world watches.
Carlos Eduarte is a Mexico City-born Minnesota-based engineer who has played and coached soccer over the past several years; he has published Op-eds in the New York Times and has written sports blogs over the years.
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