World Cup 2014 panel

Brazil’s protests were put down, but there is still time for some late action

The June 19 2014 protest, so far an exception to the rule of this World Cup. EPA/Carlos Villalba Racines

The decision to host the World Cup caused significant conflict among Brazilians. This issue was, of course, not about the football itself, but over the arrangements that are necessary to host such a huge tournament. And, even since the exciting tournament kicked off, attitudes remain conflicted toward our role as hosts.

As the massive demonstrations that took place a year before the tournament started showed, the discontent relating to the World Cup has been against the astronomical amount of public money spent on the construction of stadiums and supporting infrastructure such as airports, roads and railway systems. The official government line has emphasised the significance that this legacy will bring Brazil, the defence being that the infrastructure from the tournament will last long after the tourists have left Brazil.

Meanwhile, the government has played upon and reinforced the stereotype of the kind and hospitable Brazilian, in an effort to get people to fulfil this role as the good host. This came into full force in the days leading up to the tournament (as protests around the country hotted up too). If you turned on the TV or picked up a mainstream paper in Brazil you would have found the familiar image of cheerful, attractive young people celebrating the World Cup and the country’s passion for the game of football. These images have been the staple of the tournament’s merchandisers and raft of FIFA’s sponsors.

Contradictory feelings

But, despite this barrage of messaging from above, Brazilians’ contradictory feelings towards hosting the tournament have been made clear in the continuing strikes that have taken place. The build up to the tournament in particular saw a vast number of protests take place across the country and public sectors: school teachers, bus drivers and subway workers. Some of these strikes, as the one that took place in São Paulo the week before the first match, were repressed with particular violence by the military police.

The security measures to prevent demonstrations before the inauguration match in São Paulo were huge and the few protesters who managed to gather were kept miles away from the stadium and far from the worldwide TV audience. Nevertheless, during the match, President Dilma Rousseff was booed by the stadium’s Brazilian audience, provoking discomfort in the authorities’ cabin and picked up by TV cameras to travel the world.

Meanwhile politicians and some intellectuals from different parties and political orientations claim that these protesting movements are opportunistic and unpatriotic, since they can harm the tournament and the country’s international image. Even the jeers in the stadium to President Rousseff was considered to be just the expression of a privileged elite that do not really represent the whole population.

Thousands of Brazilians protested against World Cup spending in 2013. EPA/Marcelo Sayão

Since the tournament began, the World Cup has proved really interesting in terms of the football and done the job of entertaining crowds. Comparatively, the protests have been countered by the military police with military support. The most important exception until now was the massive demonstration in São Paulo on June 19 to celebrate the first anniversary of the demonstrations that started the hottest period of protests across Brazil. Once again, Paulista Avenue was the main stage, with some radical protesters using aggressive black bloc tactics.

Until now the combination of security forces’ ubiquitous presence, police repression, dissemination of the government’s view of the tournament and the high quality of the matches have been a successful formula to guarantee the management of this multibillion dollar business called the FIFA World Cup.

Nevertheless, FIFA’s well-known hunger for profits reveals itself in every staff member’s shining smile. They have had a great deal of influence in Brazil: circumventing national laws or having them changed – from selling alcoholic drinks in stadiums to the role of private security, creating exceptional rules and practices that can be an unspoken part of the so-called “World Cup legacy”.

And, of course, it has nothing to do with football itself: the game, the passion, the battle. Inside the field, surprising things happen as always. And the Brazil World Cup has been full of surprises on the pitch. Perhaps more are yet to emerge on the streets.

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