Protests in Brazil that broke out at the onset of this year’s Confederation’s Cup (FIFA’s dress rehearsal for next year’s World Cup) have grown exponentially. With more than a million people clamoring for social change this has been the largest protest the country has seen since the military dictatorship which ended in 1985. The Brazilian government has been targeted for hosting a World Cup that has cost the people over 9 billion pounds in taxpayers money while social services remain grossly neglected.
What began as a movement against the increase in transport fares has blossomed into a movement angry at both the government’s commercial priorities and belittlement of the country’s immense social inequalities.
In 2007 FIFA and the Brazilian government promised the entire event to be privately funded. That’s why when reports of the public resources being used surfaced, the uproar shook the around 100 cities. Prior to this it had been announced that the two governing bodies decided to build/renovate 12 stadiums instead of the initial 8, some of which have been pegged as white elephants. Coupled with the knowledge that FIFA had also announced record breaking revenues from corporate sponsorship and broadcasting rights only fueled the growth of the movement even more. As in all World Cups the bulk of the revenue goes to FIFA leaving small business owners with a month or so of good business but without any significant improvement their livelihood.
Honestly, part of the reason it took me so long to write this is that I do want to watch the World Cup, among other things (first entry in a year). You can’t help but cringe at the initial thought of the cup being cancelled. This is why we need to take a deeper look in that these actions are for the masses, the backbone of football that nobody can discount. As the Confederation’s Cup semi-final is set to start in a few hours, massive actions are expected to kick-off simultaneously to assert democratic rights and in some ways try to save football.
What the World Cup has done to Brazil
It’s strange to think of Brazil rejecting the WC. Many football fans know that Brazil do not only expect to do well in the competition, they expect to win it; all the time. As early as the 1950 World Cup (also hosted by Brazil) they built the Maracana, which remains the largest football stadium on the planet. It’s not so much a football ground as it is a national monument; similar to what the Eiffel Tower is to France.
They reached the Finals almost unscathed only to face defeat at the hands of Uruguay. This prompted the nation to ponder what caused this defeat as some even turned to racism, blaming the black players as not “Brazilian enough” to win the game. Of course this was decades ago, but the point is that until now, many Brazilians feel almost historically predisposed to win at football. With a mediocre national team, they have found a way to raise the game in another way.
While the people say they are angry at the government’s practice of hosting the WC, the tournament itself is has come into question and has rightly positioned FIFA as the organization that has turned the greatest event of the game into a plundering scheme. It is still hard to imagine the cup in the middle of the issue especially in Brazil, a nation that has more or less elevated the game to the grandeur it has today by bagging the most number of championships and setting the standard upon which future winners would be judged.
This is precisely why it is so important, Brazilians are making an example of the World Cup as something that is so strongly woven into their identity and yet is something they can cast aside if they needed to. The game regarded in Brazil as Jogo Bonito (beautiful game), an art form in itself not only takes a backseat to democratic struggle but needs to conform to the longstanding demands of the people. In a sense they are “taking back” the World Cup off the pitch.
The message of winning the World Cup and protesting the abuses of the government and FIFA is an important example for developing countries. Winning has provided Brazilians with the mentality that on some stages they are the better than wealthy nations, they are untouchable. The latter has shown that a demonstration against fare hikes can lead to a re-imagining of an entire chunk of your identity and greater change. Once again the World Cup has indirectly served as a catalyst.
Football fans, enthusiasts, pundits among others need to take notice and not use this as an excuse to simply criticize Sepp Blatter’s reign at FIFA. This resistance has transcended the game, in that for the game to survive it cannot be subject to corporate interests. The fact that this is the largest protest “democratic” Brazil has seen says a lot. It says that Brazil does not differ from the oppression and staggering inequalities felt worldwide. It says that Brazil does not differ from the oppression and staggering inequalities felt worldwide. Fitting that it had to come at this time in a country which, as BBC remarked, is poised to practically parallel its history in terms of how its national team fared in the tournament.
Do we want a World Cup?
Without question, billions of people want to see the World Cup. No doubt many of the protesters are also football fans rooting for their respective clubs, they are not against football which they have clarified many times but this is too much. Many of us need to understand: football for them is not only for arenas, it is for the streets and for everybody as it should be – not distant from how Pele and Garrincha started playing. FIFA has already stated that there is no Plan B and they are determined to push through in Brazil.
I, like many other patiently waited for Brazil 2014, simply cannot recreate or even conceive of the dramatic possibilities in a World Cup. I remember watching a nation like Ghana defeat the United States, the superpower on the biggest stage in South Africa last 2010. Holidays are declared in countries that have a game, busy streets look like ghost towns, stereotypes are shattered, political rivalries put to test on the pitch; the world at a standstill in short. However when the cost is too much, we are reminded that football is the most important of unimportant things as the saying goes.
This wave of political consciousness is admirable; it shows support for the struggles of the marginalized and an unraveling of sorts of a more progressive social identity. Once again, Brazil is at the forefront of football, this time on the streets. Yes, we do want a World Cup, now we want one that doesn’t rob the people and tear down their homes in the process. Even if it takes millions more to march on the streets.