30th October, 2007. The announcement that the 20th edition of the FIFA World Cup was to be held in Brazil was met with much joy and jubilation. The purest of purists were delighted. The fans were ecstatic and a whole nation was filled with hope. The World Cup was finally coming home, they said. This was to be only the second time that Brazil was to host the FIFA World Cup, the other occasion having been in 1950. 7 years of ‘preparation’ later, as the whole world converges on Brazil, all is not well. Poverty, corruption and inflation have left the nation limping in recent years.
V for Vinegar – When everything went wrong:
The pure joy the football world associates with Brazil does not extend to other facets of the nation. With club football in Europe taking its annual break and the build up to the World Cup finals reaching a crescendo, the hosts face riots and protests across the country. International media has expressed concern for the safety of those fans who will be visiting Brazil this year. Even FIFA president Sepp Blatter has been introspective about the decision to award the tournament to Brazil. After mass protests threatened to hold up the Confederations Cup which in adherence to tradition was being hosted by the next host of the World Cup, he said, ‘’If this happens again we have to question whether we made the wrong decision in awarding the hosting rights.”
People in Brazil have questioned the rhetoric behind allocating $15 billion for a sports tournament, with $4 billion being spent on stadiums alone while the South American nation reeled from deep rooted social and economic problems that required immediate attention. One should not forget that Brazil has also taken up the role of hosts of the next Olympics in 2016 as well. On 13th June, 2013, when a journalist was arrested in Sao Paulo for mere possession of vinegar, used to ease the effects of tear gas, the protesters sarcastically named the protests, ‘V for Vinegar’.
Selling a dream:
Brazilian politics has a history of megalomania. The capital of the nation, Brasilia was built from scratch in the middle of nowhere as part of the ostentatiously named “fifty years of prosperity in five” plan of the late 50′s. Then there was the road across the Amazon – the result of a centuries old obsession with egotistic shades of the American “Manifest Destiny”. Expenses and budgets do not factor in the equation. Only the political results do – it was all about selling the big dream.
Of course, there are those that have benefited from these projects, but the people of Brazil that I have talked to recently are of the opinion that those projects have not really been worth it to the nation as a whole. One is reminded of some of the insane construction projects of the Soviet era.
It remains just a dream:
It now appears that the people running the country never really expected the nation to profit from the World Cup. The picture that was painted was that of a landmark event that would showcase Brazil as a world power. A political bluff of sorts. Putin in Socchi and Hitler in Berlin come to mind – for the reasoning behind the event alone. In recent years though, a larger section of the Brazilian population has come to not accepting paternalism like it used to and this is where the idea of social uprising stems from the fact that some of the stadiums such as the one in Manaus deep in the Amazon rainforest will have little or no function after the tournament is something that angers the citizens even more.
There are even proposals that some of the stadiums be torn down after the tournament because of the huge long term maintenance loads they bear. The question then is why build new stadiums at all. The protestors say that it was just a means for the rich and powerful to siphon off funds from these projects to become even more rich at the expense of the taxes paid by the common man.
The biggest name in Brazilian football, the three time World Cup winner Pele had this to say. “It’s clear that politically speaking, the money spent to build the stadiums was a lot, and in some cases was more than it should have been.”
“Some of this money could have been invested in schools, in hospitals which Brazil needs. That’s clear. On that point, I agree (with the protests). But I lament what protesters are doing, which is breaking and burning everything. It’s money that we will have to spend again.”
He was also critical of the delay in preparation of the venues, and opined that the confusion was likely to keep at least some tourists away.
“We already know that 25 per cent of foreigners who are going to Brazil (for the World Cup) are worried about this movement (protests), and I think they have even cancelled (their trip). So this is a great loss for the country,” he said.
Sao Paulo, the venue of the opening match between Brazil and Croatia on June 12 is still struggling to have a stadium that is ready for operations. There is much that needs to be done in the little time that remains. With just weeks to go for kick off, only 40,000 tickets were available for Corinthians’ match against Figueirense since the temporary seats needed for the World Cup opener had not yet been installed.
With the whole world watching, sections of Brazilian society are now taking advantage of the international attention and trying to get what they believe are rightfully their’s. Subway workers are on strike asking for a 40% wage increase. Drivers have also been on strike and police officers in 14 states have gone on strike demanding better pay and working conditions. The security and transportation infrastructure are therefore big question marks even at this late stage of preparations.
The Bigger Picture:
With the nation wide protests now almost a year old, it seems little has been done to reassure the Brazilian population. The government has done little but wish these problems away. As the protests continue, work is hindered and the sprint to have everything ready on time will be close. Football fans around the world while hoping for a peaceful and memorable tournament have now as the limelight approaches, started realizing the depth of the struggle that is going on in Brazil. Solidarity with the Brazilian cause must not be lost in the shadows of the opalescence of the World Cup for we are talking about the human condition.