Social unrest in Brazil raises fears for World Cup
After over a million protest on the streets, Fifa deny Confederations Cup is in danger
The government downplays such concerns, saying the stadiums promote development and have been built for multi-purpose use so they do not have to rely on football for revenue.
But suspicions that the construction companies – a main source of kickbacks for politicians – will be the main beneficiaries of the tournament have grown, particularly in Rio, where the Maracanã stadium has been refurbished for the second time in a decade at a cost of more than €346 million. It was rebuilt with public money, but the concession to run it has been offered to a private firm, covering barely a fifth of the costs.
Meanwhile, Fifa has announced record revenues from broadcasting rights and corporate sponsorship for 2014 – none of which will go to Brazil’s public coffers.
With negative headlines also related to evictions and poor engineering quality, the growing public unease alarmed many in the sport even before the protests began.
Former national team players Romário, Tostão and Zico have been warning for many months that something is amiss. “The population of Brazil seems distant from the World Cup because of what people see as corruption and the overspend on the stadiums and the lack of transparency,” Zico told the Guardian.
With public fury now on full display, football’s leading lights also seem divided about how to respond. The Fifa president, Sepp Blatter, and Pelé – the superstar turned MasterCard ambassador – have drawn derision by calling on protesters to decouple the Confederations Cup and the demonstrations. Ronaldo has been lambasted for remarking: “A World Cup isn’t made with hospitals, my friend. It’s made with stadiums.”
Bruno Danna, a shop employee who joined the protests on Thursday, said: “I’m not against football. I will cheer the national team. But I’m mad at Ronaldo and Pelé.” The current national team, in contrast, have been vocal in their support for the demonstrations. “I want a Brazil that is fair and safe and healthier and more honest!” wrote Neymar on his Instagram blog. The Chelsea defender David Luiz and the midfielder Hulk have also expressed solidarity with those on the street.
What happens next is hard to predict. The government has backed down on the bus fare increase, but it will be harder to meet the protesters’ demands about the World Cup. The funds are mostly spent and the stadiums cannot be unbuilt.
The next potential flashpoints are the Brazil v Italy game in Salvador, and Japan v Mexico in Belo Horizonte ahead of more planned marches on Saturday, as well as the final on June 30th.
Fifa has denied speculation that it will call off the Confederations Cup, and the authorities have beefed up security, but the tense situation is hurting the chances of a successful event next year.
In a country where football is almost the national religion, people want to enjoy the World Cup, but for millions Fifa has become a tainted brand, associated with a distant global elite who profit at the expense of local people.
As one banner, held aloft by a football-loving protester – Leandro Ferreir – said on Thursday: “We don’t want a country that is beautiful only for gringos.”