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Brazilian Protesters Turn Their Anger Toward Soccer

Brail Protests 3

The protests in Brazil, which started after news came out about a series of bus fare increases, have started to turn their anger to a sport that has long been identified with the nation as a whole:

SÃO PAULO, Brazil — It has long been a source of unparalleled pride, a common bond uniting a disparate nation, something Brazilians could always point to — even in times of economic ruin or authoritarian rule — that made them the best in the world.

But these days, Brazil, the most successful nation in World Cup history, home to legends like Pelé and Ronaldo, is finding little comfort in “the beautiful game.”

In the most unexpected of ways, Brazil’s obsession with soccer has become a potent symbol of what ails the country. Ever since huge protests began sweeping across Brazil this week, demonstrators have taken to the streets by the hundreds of thousands to vent their rage at political leaders of every stripe, at the reign of corruption, at the sorry state of public services.

The protests have grown so large and disruptive that on Friday, Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff, put forth measures to address some of the grievances.

But pointing to the billions of dollars spent on stadiums at the expense of basic needs, a growing number of protesters are telling fans around the globe to do what would once have seemed unthinkable: to boycott the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. In a sign of how thoroughly the country has been turned upside down, even some of the nation’s revered soccer heroes have become targets of rage for distancing themselves from the popular uprising.

“Pelé and Ronaldo are making money off the Cup with their advertising contracts, but what about the rest of the nation?” asked one protester, Gabriela Costa, 24, a university student.

Protesters lambasted both men after Pelé, whose full name is Edson Arantes do Nascimento, called on Brazilians to “forget the protests” and a video circulated on social media showing Ronaldo, whose name is Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima, now a television commentator and sports marketing strategist, contending that World Cups are accomplished “with stadiums, not hospitals.”

With hordes of protesters rallying outside soccer matches, clashing with the police and setting vehicles on fire, FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, took pains to reassure the world on Friday that it had “full trust” in Brazil’s ability to provide security and had not considered canceling either the 2014 World Cup or the Confederations Cup, a major international tournament currently taking place in Brazil.

But the fact that soccer officials even had to address the issue was a major embarrassment to Brazilian officials, who had fought so hard to land international events like the World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games in order to showcase what a stable, democratic power their nation had become.

Now instead of being the culmination of Brazil’s rise, the events — and the enormous expense of hosting them — have become a rallying cry for the protesters to show how out of step their government’s priorities are with what the people want and need. While the government says it is spending more than $13 billion to prepare for the World Cup, including related construction projects, most of the stadiums are over budget, according to official findings.

“I love soccer,” said Arnaldo da Silva, 29, a supervisor at a telecommunications company supervisor, who celebrated back in 2007 when Brazil landed the World Cup but was also among the protesters in the streets this week, denouncing spending on stadiums when the infrastructure around those structures, like sidewalks, is crumbling. “It’s as if we’re divided between our heart and our head.”

In addition to next year’s World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, Brazil will also be the host of this year’s World Youth Day, a religious  event organized by the Catholic Church and held by at the international level every two to three years. This year, it will be held in Rio de Janeiro and will mark Pope Francis’s first trip to South America since he was  elevated to the Papacy after having been Archbishop of Buenos Aires form many years. While many of the costs of that even are being covered by the Church, the Brazilian government will still be responsible for security and law enforcement surrounding the Papal visit. So far, there hasn’t been comment from the Vatican, but in many ways these protests seem perfectly made for a Pope who, in first two months of his Papacy, has spent much time drawing attention to the poor.

On the soccer side, the protesters focus on that area is interesting if only because the sport itself is immensely popular in Brazil, and players like Pele are sports icons in the way that Babe Ruth and Michael Jordan are here in the United States. Nonetheless, the World Cup and the Olympics seem to be at the core of the argument that protesters are making:

The protests are happening as Brazil makes preparations for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. The Confederations Cup, a precursor to the World Cup, is happening now in Brazil in several of the cities dealing with protests. Public spending on these events—running in the billions—is another target of protesters’ ire. The 2016 Rio Olympics will be the first time the event will be hosted in South America, and workers’ rights advocates say the country is gutting services to poor people to pay for the events.

Police and roughly 15,000 protesters clashed Wednesday in Fortaleza, according to the Associated Press, about two miles from a stadium where Brazil took on Mexico.

“We are against a government which spends billions in stadiums while people are suffering across the country,” one of the protesters said. “We want better education, more security and a better health system.”

Not everyone affiliated with the national sport is as dismissive of the protesters, though. Members of Brazil’s World Cup winning national team have made statements supportive of the protesters:

One day after peaceful protests in Rio de Janeiro and other cities descended into chaotic street battles between protesters and the police, and tensions boiled over between factions within the demonstrations as well, a congressman who once helped Brazil win a World Cup railed against the cost of staging next year’s tournament.

Speaking in a video posted on YouTube (not yet subtitled in English), the former soccer star Romário threw his support behind the demonstrations and criticized what he called waste and mismanagement on an epic scale in the preparations for the 2014 World Cup.

Romário, a Socialist Party member who represents Rio de Janeiro in the federal congress, said that the more than $3 billion spent so far on building and renovating stadiums for the tournament could have paid instead for 8,000 new schools, 39,000 school buses and 28,000 sports facilities for the public. “The money spent in Mané Garrincha Stadium” in the capital, Brasília, he added, “could have been used to build 150,000 homes for people of low income, medium income or no income.”

Romário, the hero of Brazil’s 1994 triumph, also criticized the role played by soccer’s world governing body, FIFA, which he called “a state inside of the state.” He said that after the Confederations Cup, a test run for next year’s tournament that is now under way, “some things that didn’t work will need to be redone, and some new things for the World Cup will need to be done. And who determines what needs to be done? The true president of Brazil today, named FIFA.”

Later in the video statement, he added: “Our country’s current president, named FIFA, will arrive, will collect a profit of four billion reais,” or nearly $2 billion. Normally, a profit like that would cost a business about $500 million, Romário said, but FIFA “won’t pay it. That is: it will come, it will mount its circus, won’t spend anything and will take everything.”

As the article goes on to note, other Brazilian soccer stars of note have made similar statements, and Pele has issued an apology in which he declares himself to be “100% in favor of this movement for justice in Brazil!”  It seems highly unlikely that these protests will lead to either the World Cup or the Olympics being moved out of Brazil. However, the fact that protesters are turning their attention toward these high-profile events that cost the nation billions of dollars while delivering dubious actual economic benefits is yet another sign that this has become about more than just bus fare. The political leadership in Brazil will clearly need to respond to these protests soon before they get even more out off hand.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Andre Kenji says:

    1-) These reports are distorted. In Brazilian cities most people still prefer soccer to demonstrations: almost every TV on public places are showing the games from the Confederations Cup(Even when minor teams are playing), and people are listening to the games on FM radio in the buses.

    Sure, I bet that you could also find plenty of young women complaining about the SuperBowl in US.

    2-) It´s true that there are too many venues in the World Cup, and that many stadiums in cities like Cuiabá, Manaus(A city in the middle of the Amazon rainforest) and even Brasilia are going to be underused. On the other hand, the sports infrastructure in the country was always pretty poor – in 2000, the country lost the chance to host the ATP Masters Cup of Tennis because no one found a venue to host the event.

    The two most expensive stadiums that are being built for the World Cup are going to cost something like 500 million dollars. There are three recently built stadiums in the US that did cost three times more than that, each.

    In fact, if you are poor and if you live in Brazil you have much better health coverage than if you are poor and if you live in Texas. I don´t see people arguing that the Cowboys Stadium should not have been built, pointing out to the hordes uninsured people in Texas.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 3

  2. @Andre Kenji:

    I don´t see people arguing that the Cowboys Stadium should not have been built

    I’m opposed to stadiums being built with public funds. We shouldn’t be spending huge amounts of tax dollars solely for the benefit of a for profit enterprise.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  3. Ben says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Which points to another reason people should respect the Patriots, even if you hate the team. Their stadium was built entirely with private money. All the state did was toss a couple million to freshen up Route 1 in front of the stadium (which needed to happen anyways; Route 1 was a crappy little two lane road at the time.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  4. 11B40 says:

    Greetings:

    One of the great regrets of my misspent youth is not having played soccer. If only I had been born without arms.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 5

  5. Dave Schuler says:

    @11B40:

    It depends on where you grew up. Where I grew up more than a half century ago there have been professional soccer leagues since the 1820s and everybody played soccer. Most of the members of my high school’s state champion soccer team went to college on soccer scholarships and from there to the U. S. Olympic team.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  6. Rafer Janders says:

    On the soccer side, the protesters focus on that area is interesting if only because the sport itself is immensely popular in Brazil, and players like Pele are sports icons in the way that Babe Ruth and Michael Jordan are here in the United States.

    That sort of understates it. Football in Brazil is sort of like a combined basketball / baseball / American football / hockey in terms of popularity and fan intensity, so someone like Pele is much, much more popular than Michael Jordan could ever hope to be. Pele is more like a Jordan plus LeBron plus Gretzsky plus A-Rod plus Tom Brady plus pre-doping Lance Armstrong in one.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  7. wr says:

    @Andre Kenji: “In fact, if you are poor and if you live in Brazil you have much better health coverage than if you are poor and if you live in Texas. I don´t see people arguing that the Cowboys Stadium should not have been built, pointing out to the hordes uninsured people in Texas. ”

    Congratulations. Poor people in Brazil are apparently smarter than poor Texans. Because of course government support for stadiums is just one more way corrupt politicians shovel money at rich people instead of helping the ctizens.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  8. PJ says:

    @wr:

    Because of course government support for stadiums is just one more way corrupt politicians shovel money at rich people instead of helping the ctizens.

    Without a stadium there can’t be any circuses.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  9. Andre Kenji says:

    @wr:

    Poor people in Brazil are apparently smarter than poor Texans.

    1-) These are not poor people complaining. Last year, the Miltary Police in Brazil destroyed a favela in São José de Campos, a city in the state of Sâo Paulo, displacing women and children. There are also a series of fires in favelas in the city.

    Sure, these people can´t go to foreign blogs to complain, but, hell, these are people that were fighting for their homes. I did not see foreign people caring about that.

    2-) It´s very difficult to built large stadiums without government help. Every stadium has some kind of public support. If not direct money, it´s subsidized loans.

    By the way, people are including loans from BNDES, a development bank, that loans money to almost every medium and large business in Brazil, as “public money”. There are several overpriced public expenses in Brazil. These stadiums are not among them.

    3-) São Paulo did not have a good stadium where international competitions could be held. In fact, the traffic is a nightmare next to most of these stadiums when games are being held.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  10. Andre Kenji says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    I’m opposed to stadiums being built with public funds. We shouldn’t be spending huge amounts of tax dollars solely for the benefit of a for profit enterprise.

    These stadiums aren´t being built solely for the benefit of for profit enterprise. Many of these stadiums are going to be owned by cities and they are going to be used for all kinds of public events for years.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

  11. wr says:

    @Andre Kenji: “-) These are not poor people complaining”

    Actually, that’s what the coverage here has said — it’s the middle class. This was my mistake. Your middle class people are much smarter than Texans.

    “São Paulo did not have a good stadium where international competitions could be held. In fact, the traffic is a nightmare next to most of these stadiums when games are being held. ”

    As I understand it from all the way over here, the point that the protestors are making is that they don’t really care if there are good stadiums — they’d rather have good schools.

    By the way, would you mind asking them to tone this all down by mid-July? I’m coming to Sao Paulo for a week then…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  12. @Andre Kenji:

    These stadiums aren´t being built solely for the benefit of for profit enterprise.

    Yes, yes, I’ve heard the spiel before. The BS wasn’t any more convincing from you than it was from our local and state politicians.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  13. jskyler says:

    @Andre Kenji:

    Brazil has among the poorest infrastructure of middle-income nations in the world so its pretty galling to see billions spent on stadiums instead of roads, ports, electrical facilities, etc

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  14. Console says:

    I don´t see people arguing that the Cowboys Stadium should not have been built

    This is Texas… we spent 60 million on a HIGH SCHOOL stadium. If America is your model for spending money on stupid shit, good luck with that.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  15. Andre Kenji says:

    @wr:

    As I understand it from all the way over here, the point that the protestors are making is that they don’t really care if there are good stadiums — they’d rather have good schools.

    You can have both. Sports are a good public policy to improve education. Ironically, I worked inside the Education Department of the State of São Paulo, and I noted that graft, corruption and cronyism are rampant there.

    I don´t see people complaining about that in these demonstrations.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  16. Andre Kenji says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    The BS wasn’t any more convincing from you than it was from our local and state politicians.

    I´m not talking about your local and state politicians.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  17. Andre Kenji says:

    @jskyler:

    Brazil has among the poorest infrastructure of middle-income nations in the world so its pretty galling to see billions spent on stadiums instead of roads, ports, electrical facilities, etc

    The “public money” that´s being effectively spent on stadiums is not going to make a difference on roads, ports, and whatever.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  18. Andre Kenji says:

    @Console:

    This is Texas… we spent 60 million on a HIGH SCHOOL stadium. If America is your model for spending money on stupid shit, good luck with that.

    I´m using Texas because it´s an easy example, but everywhere else in the world you have the government investing money on sports facilities. Even when people swore that it did not spent.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  19. ernieyeball says:

    I think it’s neat the banners in the photo for the post are in English. I also like it when I see banners that are scripted in the native tounge and translated into English side by side.
    I know it’s been going on for years.
    Televison and now the Internet have made us all neighbors whether we want to be or not.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  20. Andre Kenji says:

    By the way, this afternoon I noted that the streets were pretty silent. Then, I remembered that the Brazilian national team was playing. ;-)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  21. 11B40 says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    Greetings:

    Thanks for your reply, Dave. Almost similarly, where I grew up about half a century ago, they used to play hurley. I didn’t play that either. Arms are good, clubs no so much.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  22. Andre Kenji says:

    @wr:

    By the way, would you mind asking them to tone this all down by mid-July? I’m coming to Sao Paulo for a week then…

    Hey, if you are going to São Paulo contact me via email. Then, we can discuss it live. ;-)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0