Over 1 million people lined the streets across Brazil on 20th June to protest about a variety of injustices from Dilma Rousseff’s government. A proposed rise in Sao Paulo bus fares was the catalyst, but the reasons behind the demonstrations have flitted between the interconnected motives of anger at poor public services, outrage at the pervasiveness of political corruption and the lavish expenditure on the 2014 World Cup.
At 28 billion rials ($12.6 billion), Brazil’s World Cup is by far the most expensive ever - three times the cost of Germany 2006. Considering the plight of public services across much of the country, it would appear that the protestors have a legitimate grievance.
Writing in the Guardian last week (and having spoken to the BBC a few weeks ago), star striker-turned-Congressman Romario lamented the expense of the tournament. Even if we must take Romario’s comments with a pinch of party political salt, he still makes a number of interesting and valid points. What stood out to me was the tax-free profit of R$4 billion FIFA stands to make from the tournament. Equally, the terrible state into which Brazil’s school system has got itself makes it almost surprising that the protests took so long to erupt. Though falling export demand has lead to dwindling GDP growth and inflationary pressures over the past couple of years, which has undoubtedly jolted awake any previously dormant social tensions.
The fact that the protestors are not affiliated to one of Brazil’s thirty political parties has meant that their message hasn’t been as clear as it might have. What is clear, however, is that most Brazilians are not against the World Cup per se, but they are angry about the lack of ‘legacy’ that the tournament will have. According to The Economist, airports remain mired in the last century and at least five of the host cities have admitted that the bus lanes, metros and monorails they had promised will not be ready before kickoff.
There is, though, a sizable group who are anti-World Cup; their message is outlined in this video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZApBgNQgKPU). But the sentiment of the video seems clouded to me, it kind of suggests that the World Cup should only be held in rich, developed countries which would be detrimental to world football as a whole in my opinion. Clearly the government has spent way beyond its means but I don’t think confining future World Cups to OECD countries is the answer.
FIFA has, quite rightly, come in for a fair amount of criticism firstly for the extravagance of the plans for the World Cup and secondly for its handling of the resulting protests. Corinthians has blamed FIFA for doubling the cost of its new stadium with its lavish demands.
Moreover, Brazilian officials were apparently “surprised” by the fact that Sepp Blatter high-tailed it out of the country as soon as the unrest erupted. These officials are either extremely polite or unaware of the calibre of man they are dealing with. FIFA has been unsurprisingly silent on the issue but to be fair it is probably not in their interest to get involved in Brazilian domestic affairs.
The fact is that the protests have instigated change: a new constituent assembly to consider political reform; making corruption a felony (previously it was just a misdemeanour); a promise to invest $R50 billion; and increased spending on health and education. This is an undeniably positive outcome that has, according to Rousseff, “strengthened democracy” in Brazil. But it does set a precedent for potential further unrest in twelve months time the next time the world is watching.
It is a shame in a way that what has been a thoroughly entertaining Confederations Cup on the pitch will most probably be remembered for the accompanying protests. My only hope is that, like the British did last summer, the next summer’s World Cup will lift Brazilian spirits and leave them looking forward to – rather than dreading – the Olympics they are staging in 2016.
Next summer Football Beyond Borders will go to Salvador in Brazil to put on the "Legacy Games", a project that aims to bring students from around the world together with local communities to work on long-lasting solutions to social problems in their city. If you would like to find out more about our Brazil 2014 project, please email firstname.lastname@example.org