Rio rocked by riots in run-up to World Cup

Dividing lines: Police brutality and social unrest are under the spotlight in Brazil © PA

The world’s greatest football event is fewer than 50 days away, yet in the past week Brazil has experienced serious social unrest. Will the World Cup bring any benefits to ordinary people?

It will be the ‘cup of all cups’ according to Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff, as the country gears up to host football’s 2014 World Cup.

But in the past two weeks, excitement over the beautiful game has been tainted by some ugly scenes. Gunfights, protests and even killings are escalating, just weeks before the tournament is due to kick-off on 12th June.

Last week, one favela near the world famous Copacabana beach erupted in violence, and protests have been raging ever since.

Residents accused police of killing a popular television dancer and actor, 26-year-old Douglas Rafael da Silva, after they mistook him for a gang member. ‘I want everyone coming to the World Cup to know the truth about our police. They hunt and they kill,’ said Maria da Silva, his distraught mother.

Tensions are running high in a country known both for its love of football, but also its gang violence and deep social inequality. In Rio de Janeiro, where the England team will be based, crime has spiked in recent months, and reported street robberies have increased by almost a third since last year, from 4,700 to 6,700.

In the run-up to the World Cup, Brazil is desperately trying to clean up its image and ensure that it will be safe for visitors. Earlier this month more than 1,400 police officers and Brazilian marines rolled into slums near Rio de Janeiro’s airport in an effort to rid impoverished areas of heavily armed drug gangs that rule Rio’s shanty towns.

Brazil’s government had promised that the World Cup would generate 3.6m jobs and produce other gains for ordinary people, but many Brazilians are sceptical – 49% of Brazilians now believe the Cup will do more harm than good.

They complain that the police are just as violent as the gangs, and that the tournament will cost too much. Any changes are simply cosmetic: ‘para inglês ver’ or ‘for the English to see’, as the locals complain.

Has the World Cup already come at too high a price for Brazil?

Fever pitch

Yes, argue some. The extraordinary wave of protests that has hit Brazil since last year show that the World Cup ignores the plight of ordinary citizens. While the government spends lavish sums on new stadia, poor Brazilians are enraged that they still lack adequate hospitals and schools.

But others say that major sporting events are capable of regenerating poor areas, creating jobs and boosting business. They argue that gang violence would occur with or without the World Cup, and many Brazilians have welcomed the greater police presence in the favelas and a crackdown on crime. Besides, Brazil’s passion for football is unmatched, and when the time comes, the nation will unite behind its great sporting spectacle.

You Decide

  1. Will the World Cup leave Brazil better off? Or worse?
  2. Are the intangible benefits of hosting a world cup, such as national pride, as important as tangible benefits, like job growth?


  1. In groups, design and produce an infographic on Brazil, with key facts and figures about the country.
  2. Do some research into Brazil’s favelas, using our expert links. Pretend you live in a favela and write a diary extract, describing your thoughts and feelings ahead of the World Cup. Do you feel excited, or just disillusioned?

Some People Say...

“Sport is the biggest contributor to nation building and social cohesion.’Fikile Mbalula”

What do you think?

Q & A

How does this affect me?
Well, if you see yourself as a big football fan, then this year’s World Cup will be very exciting. It’s important that as well as enjoying major sporting events, we also consider the impact they have on host countries. Even if you’re not much of a footie aficionado, the World Cup is shining a light on Brazil’s violence and inequality something we should all be aware of.
Will the World Cup do more harm than good?
It will be difficult to measure. When South Africa hosted the World Cup four years ago, officials were accused of forcibly relocating homeless people so that tourists wouldn’t see them. But others claimed South Africa also transformed its transport and infrastructure, and reaped long-term ‘intangible benefits’, such as a boost to national morale.

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. The success of the World Cup could be a crucial factor in her bid.
The term for Brazil’s slums. Favelas are associated with extreme poverty, and around six percent of Brazil’s population live in them – that’s approximately 11.4 million people.
Love of football
Out of 19 World Cup tournaments, Brazil has won five of them, the highest number of victories for a single country.
Brazil has a high level of crime with a murder rate of 50,000 a year, according to the UN, making it more violent than Rwanda and Sierra Leone, and accounting for almost a third of homicides in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Brazil is a country of stark contrasts: 26% of the population lives below the poverty line, while some Brazilian executives earn among the highest salaries in the world.
At $11bn (around £6.5bn), this is the most expensive World Cup in history.

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