Brazil braced for more World Cup protests

Let them eat sport: A mural in a Sao Paulo school gets to the heart of the protests © Paulo Ito

Only weeks before the kick-off of the world’s largest sporting event, thousands of Brazilians continue to protest at the huge expense of hosting it. Will it deliver any benefits to them?

The plan for Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff and her ruling Workers’ Party was presumably simple: Host the World Cup, win it for a record sixth time and, on a wave of popular rejoicing, secure another four years in power in October’s national elections.

But as the tournament approaches, a cascade of negative stories continues to overwhelm the country and threaten Rousseff’s leadership. With less than three weeks before the kick-off in São Paulo, a recent poll found less than half of Brazilians were happy to be hosting it, and general dissatisfaction is spreading fast.

Stadiums remain incomplete, rumours of corruption are rife and fury over the excessive cost have resulted in enormous protests across the country this month. The cost of the stadiums is now in the region of £2.4bn — three times the original estimate, and the total bill is now approaching £10bn. Most of this money comes from the public purse, and many Brazilians argue that it would have been better spent on improving the country’s poor quality schools and hospitals.

The extent of public resentment became apparent last year when Brazil staged its World Cup warm-up in June. The largest wave of social protest the country had ever seen erupted across 120 cities, ignited by bus fare increases in São Paulo. Fearful that similar protests will threaten the tournament, the government has created a 170,000-strong security force to deal with any further unrest.

Yet Brazil is famous as ‘o Pais do Futebol’ — the country of football, and the sport is a national pastime and a source of great pride. Few Brazilian phrases have entered the global lingua franca like Pelé’s ‘O Jogo Bonito’ – the Beautiful Game, and the country’s unrivalled World Cup record is widely regarded as setting the standard.

Pitch imperfect

Public apathy and anger shows that many ordinary Brazilians believe that the World Cup has come at too high a cost, and will deliver few returns. Even a victory on the pitch will not unite the nation the way it did in the past, say some, and a shock exit from the tournament could signal even worse protests. The damage has already been done – the country’s social injustices are too stark to ignore.

But others still believe that the power of the event will work its magic. Over half a million visitors from around the world will soon be arriving in the country, and the government claims that local businesses will profit and impoverished areas be regenerated are not entirely unfounded. With over 60% of World Cup tickets being snapped up by Brazilians, there is still considerable local enthusiasm. Brazil is a clear favourite to win, and victory could unite the country.

You Decide

  1. Will the World Cup be an overall positive experience for Brazil, or a negative one?
  2. Should the result of a major sporting event affect how the public votes in a national election?

Activities

  1. In groups, take it in turns to write your name on a large piece of paper with your reasons for being excited about the World Cup or not. Swap the posters between groups and discuss whether you agree with the comments.
  2. Design and produce an infographic on this year’s World Cup, including key facts and figures about the tournament.

Some People Say...

“A World Cup is a common project that otherwise barely exists in modern societies.’Simon Kuper”

What do you think?

Q & A

I’m not a football fan — how does this affect me?
You don’t have to love football to find the World Cup fascinating. From past controversies to the political science behind whether it can influence elections, the tournament has something for everyone. This year’s event is also important because of what it can tell us about the world’s seventh largest economy and social makeup of Brazil.
How is the success of a World Cup measured?
As well as obvious benefits such as job growth and urban regeneration, there are also less easily measured ones such as pride and national happiness to consider. Despite the problems of this World Cup, some say that Brazil hosting the event is positive in itself, as previously restricting the right to host to a small group of rich countries was wrong.

Word Watch

Dilma Rousseff
Rousseff presides over the world’s seventh-largest economy, and is the first ever female Brazilian president. Elections in Brazil will take place on 5th October this year, and Rousseff is hoping to win a second term. Since 1994, the World Cup has coincided every four years with general elections in Brazil.
Poll
A 2008 a poll by the Datafolha Agency in the widely respected Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper showed 79% support for the World Cup in Brazil. By April this year another poll by the same agency showed this had fallen to 48%.
Stadiums
Three stadiums — in Sao Paulo, Cuiaba and Curitiba — have not been completed. Nor have the planned upgrades to Brazil’s airports. Subways lines are also unfinished.
Lingua franca
A language that is adopted as a common language between speakers whose native languages are different.
Pelé
A now retired Brazilian footballer who is generally regarded as the greatest player of all time.

Subjects

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