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Maracanã stadium in Rio de Janeiro

BRAZIL’S NATIONAL PRIDE AND EMBARRASSMENT: WHAT THE WORLD CUP PROTESTS SAY ABOUT BRAZIL’S PAST AND FUTURE


“Não vai ter Copa!” they chant in the streets of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, and several other Brazilian cities that will host World Cup matches in June and July. “There will be no World Cup,” they say, and they mean to be taken seriously. Protests have exploded throughout Brazil on the eve of the World Cup. The protesters’ list of grievances is long and not entirely limited to the problems associated with Brazil’s hosting of the 2014 World Cup, but this landmark event in Brazil’s history has provided the opportunity for people from the middle and working classes to air their grievances on the world stage.

A protester holds a sign that reads in Portuguese “There will be no World Cup!”
A protester holds a sign that reads in Portuguese “There will be no World Cup!” AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd

In response to the protests, the Brazilian congress has attempted to pass a bill it describes as an anti-terror bill, but which in realty is intended to suppress demonstrations. The bill creates the crimes of “disorder” and “terrorism”, each with broad legal definitions that could lead to the criminalization of attending a public demonstration, even if a person is doing nothing illegal.[i]

The irony of this law is that Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff was an active Marxist revolutionary during Brazil’s right-wing military dictatorship of 1964-1985, and she was reportedly captured, imprisoned, and tortured for her beliefs. The fact that she would allow a law which could potentially do the same to World Cup protesters smacks of government hypocrisy and seems to strengthen the protestors’ position.

Now, I lived in Brazil for two years in my early 20s. During my time there, the amount of people I met who didn’t worship futbol and the Brazilian national team—the Seleção—were few and far between. The Seleçãois the pride of Brazil and perhaps Brazil’s most recognizable export outside of the world’s most famous elevator song,[ii] a certain type of waxing, and Gisele Bundchen. The pride is so great that no Brazilian who is willing to talk about it will ever admit that Brazil’s loss to host country France in the 1998 World Cup Final was legitimate. As the arguments go, either the Seleçãothrew the game for money, or FIFA rigged it so the host France could win…or a combination of both.

So what could possibly lead a nation so enamored by “o jogo bonitothe beautiful game—to protest on such a grand scale what may be the greatest soccer event in Brazil’s history?

You Don’t Always Get What You Pay For

The easiest answer to that question is overspending. Well, not just overspending…overspending with public funds on what has turned out to be an unfinished product. The numbers on the total amount spent by Brazil to stage the World Cup vary, but they all seem to settle within the $11 billion to $15 billion range. Regardless of what the precise number is, if it is in that range, this will go down as the costliest World Cup in history up to this point (I’m looking at you Qatar).

On top of that, more than one of the 12 stadiums being built or renovated for the World Cup will be incomplete by the time the tournament begins. FIFA originally placed a December 31, 2013 deadline on having the stadiums ready, but six of the 12 missed that deadline. Five of those stadiums, including the Arena de São Paulo, which will host the opening match between Brazil and Croatia in São Paulo on June 12, have yet to be finished. Given these expensive delays, many Brazilians are fairly asking the question, “Is this what we get for $11 billion?”

A statue of Christ the Redeemer atop Corcovado overlooks the Mário Filho (Maracanã) stadium in Rio de Janeiro. The Maracanã stadium will host both the Brazil 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics. Yasuyoshi Chiba / AFP/Getty Images

There is also the concern about whether it is actually worth it to expend so much on an event that only lasts a month. Of course, this concern accompanies practically every large-scale sporting event like the World Cup and the Olympics, especially in developing nations like Brazil and Russia where the venues and infrastructure necessary for such events did not previously exist and were built in preparation for the event, regardless of whether there would be a need for them afterwards. As Brazilian reporter Yan Boechat points out, a large amount of money has been spent on things that the country does not need. For example, the Arena da Amazonia (Amazon Arena) was built in Manaus, a city which Boechat describes as “a place without a football culture and not even a team in the first or second division.” A local team named Nacional Futebol Club, which plays in Brazil’s fourth division, will play in the arena after the World Cup. But the 1,500 fans they normally draw for games will come nowhere close to filling up the 44,000-seat World Cup stadium. There are similar concerns for the cities of Cuiabá and Natal, which each lack the same football heritage and high division teams that are present in other cities hosting World Cup matches.

In spite of all this, government officials and other World Cup supporters are doing their best to sound positive in the face of massive unrest that has accompanied what they hoped would be a universally celebrated event. Government officials characterize the spending as investments in infrastructure, including airports, shipping ports, security equipment, and technology. They argue that such investments will benefit Brazilian citizens well beyond the World Cup. To alleviate fears about recovering the investment on the Amazon Arena, officials in charge of the stadium say that in addition to housing the Nacional Futebol Club and contributing to a revival of soccer in the region, the stadium will be used as a huge conference venue and a venue they hope will attract A-list shows and concerts.

Work remains undone at Amazon Arena
Work remains undone at Amazon Arena

But for all the talk of infrastructure improvements and speculative returns on investment, the record so far is disheartening. Brazil has only delivered on half of the infrastructure projects it promised to undertake, and many of them remain unfinished. A fifth of the projects were scrapped because they could not be completed on time, including a high-speed bullet train between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Others, including the overhaul of Rio de Janeiro’s international airport, will not be ready until after the World Cup. In fact, of the 13 airport terminals being upgraded in Brazilian airports, 10 will not be ready in time for the World Cup.

Need Food, Not Football

need food not footballThe protestors almost universally decry the fact that massive amounts of public funds were used to build stadiums and other projects related to the World Cup. They argue that Brazil should invest more in the country’s poor public health, education, and transportation programs before spending billions on soccer stadiums. If Brazil wanted to host the World Cup so badly, they argue that private funds should have been used to finance the World Cup. They also point to the fact that World Cup projects, including stadiums, roads, and other construction projects, have displaced hundreds of thousands of poor people living in Brazilian favelas, or slums.

Andrea Cordeiro, of the Ministry for Sport, counters by arguing that funding the World Cup does not prevent the government from spending on health and education. According to her, government investment in health and education has tripled since 2007, and Brazil has invested $358.8 billion in health and education since 2010. Other Brazilian officials argue that most of the displacements have been underway for years and are not linked to World Cup preparations.

But the blame is not wholly directed at the Brazilian government. Protestors have also focused their ire on FIFA, soccer’s worldwide governing body, which they argue has exploited Brazilian government and is just as responsible for the World Cup price tag. The protestors tend to argue that FIFA’s demand for newer, larger, and renovated stadiums led Brazil down the path of overspending on the new soccer venues.

Translation: "The [World] Cup takes our schools and hospitals, and leaves us its balls."
Translation: “The [World] Cup takes our schools and hospitals, and leaves us its balls.”
Brazilians that I have contact with tend to agree. “Here in Brazil we have one of the biggest championships in the world,” a friend from Brazil tells me while musing on the subject. “We could have just used what we already had [to stage the World Cup]. Who is going to play in Cuiaba after the Cup? In Manaus?” While I will qualify my agreement with my friend by saying that most of the stadiums I saw in Brazil (including Morumbi in São Paulo, which was originally pitched as the site for the Cup opener) could not have hosted a World Cup game without extensive renovations, he is certainly justified in arguing that Brazil could have done just fine with improvements to the stadiums they already had.

A History of Discontent

Brazilian history in the 20th century is filled to the brim with stories of protests, revolutions, and coups, both bloodless and bloody. Not until the past three decades has anything resembling a stable democracy existed in Brazil, and even during this time discontent with those in power has been significant. A brief history will show that political discontent and protests are as Brazilian as the massive party called Carnival.

Brazil first transitioned from rule by an emperor in 1889 when Deodoro da Fonseca deposed Emperor Dom Pedro II by a coup d’etat. The government of this period was referred to as a republic, but in reality power was concentrated in the hands of influential land owners. In 1930, Getúlio Vargas installed himself as dictator through a bloodless coup and ruled until 1945. From 1946 to 1964, Brazil experienced an effective and widespread democracy for the first time, but the period was marked by political instability and eventually ended when the military seized power in 1964. The right-wing military dictatorship, which lasted from 1964 to 1985, used arbitrary arrests and imprisonments, rape, torture, and murder as tactics to suppress its left-wing opponents. Widespread student protests and armed opposition to the dictatorship occurred at various instances during the regime. The dictatorship’s ultimatum-like slogan during the time of its rule does a fair job of illustrating the government’s view towards any type of opposition to its power: “Brasil: Ame-o ou deixe-o” (Brazil: love it or leave).

Police fire rubber bullets at protesters in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Thursday, June 12, 2014. Brazilian police have clashed with anti-World Cup protesters trying to block part of the main highway leading to the stadium that hosts the opening match of the tournament.
Police fire rubber bullets at protesters in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Thursday, June 12, 2014. Brazilian police have clashed with anti-World Cup protesters trying to block part of the main highway leading to the stadium that hosts the opening match of the tournament.

Things have been better since 1985. Every president since that time either was democratically elected or assumed the office because he was vice president when the president died or was impeached. But that’s not to say that Brazilians haven’t had good reason to complain. The presidencies since 1985 have experienced disastrous inflation, impeachment, and widespread corruption. The presidency of Luis Inácio Lula da Silva (“Lula”), who was in power from 2003 to 2011 and was in office when FIFA awarded Brazil the World Cup, was plagued with numerous corruption scandals which forced members of his cabinet to resign. President Lula’s handpicked successor, Dilma Rousseff, is the current president and has the great fortune of hosting the world while dealing with widespread protests.

I provide you with this unsolicited history lesson for the purpose of showing that Brazilians have never truly been content with their government, no matter what form it has taken, and they have always been willing to voice that discontent in one way or another. It just so happens that this time around, it is happening as the world watches.

Government Security Measures

Brazil’s security efforts actually began in 2008, when the police force in Rio de Janeiro created Police Pacifying Units (UPPs) to reduce violence in Rio’s favelas. The favelas are notorious as havens for violence and drug trafficking, and its criminal residents often target tourists in the middle and upper class areas located nearby.[iii] The UPP program involved establishing permanent police stations in the favelas to combat and deter crime. It was initially successful at its goal of deterring crime, though it has suffered a setback recently.[iv] It has also been plagued by allegations of police abuse, including corruption, torture, and even murder of civilians.[v] This has of course acted as additional fuel for protestors.

Brazil’s World Cup security forces will, by all accounts, be massive. Some 170,000 security personnel, including both police officers and military troops, will be tasked with keeping the peace during the tournament. 1,800 private security personnel will be stationed at each of the 12 World Cup stadiums. And they won’t just be protecting against typical soccer hooliganism and violence. Almost 11,000 National Force operatives have been drafted in to deal specifically with the protests that may come to a head during the World Cup. These operatives have been trained in dealing with civil unrest. There will even be 40 FBI agents, brought in as part of an “anti-terror” unit.

Brazil on the World Stage

Despite the best efforts of the government and FIFA, it is clear that protestors will take to the streets all over Brazil, including in all 12 of the host cities. At least in the beginning, media attention will not be limited to the games. The world will see images of protests and government response throughout Brazil. There will be discussion of whether Brazil was adequately prepared for the demands of the World Cup, and there will be questions about whether it will be prepared for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio.

Why would Brazilian citizens want to risk this kind of negative exposure during a time when everyone would expect them to be celebrating their love for o jogo bonito? That question is answered eloquently by Diego, a 23 year-old university student: “What was a source of pride became a source of embarrassment. Our actions came to be a symbol for everything we feel is wrong with the country.”[vi]

AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd
Rioters clash with Police on Thursday June 12, 2014. AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd

The long term effects of the 2014 World Cup are yet to be determined. Many believe that all problems could be forgotten if Brazil ends up winning its sixth World Cup trophy. A situation where Brazil wins the World Cup and protests turn to parties in the street is certainly a plausible scenario.[vii] Count President Dilma Rousseff as one of those who is hoping for this scenario. While it’s likely she will initially be blamed for the lack of preparation, she would have a much better chance of surviving politically if Brazil wins and the World Cup is consequently viewed as a success.

I hope for a good showing from Brazil (and the Americans). But the true tragedy here would be if the protests are forgotten, as has been the case with protests before in Brazil, and fail to bring about true change in the behavior of Brazilian politicians. Brazil received the World Cup and the Olympics, because of the enormous potential it has, and it would be a shame if that potential continues to be limited by those in charge.


[i] Right to protest under threat as Brazil pushes ‘terrorism’ law ahead of World Cup, Amnesty International.

[ii] See Garota de Ipanema (Portuguese); The Girl from Ipanema (English).

[iii] For an idea of what they are like on the inside, see the movie City of God. But take it with a grain of salt, as I can tell you that favelas are not always quite as violent as is depicted in the movie.

[iv] See, With Brazil in Spolight, Rio’s Favela Pacification Program at a Crossroads, World Politics Review.

[v] Brazil’s favelas are in big trouble, despite World Cup marketing push, The Guardian.

[vi] Brazil in Mad Dash to Prepare for World Cup and More Protests, Bleacher Report.

[vii] Boechat agrees: “If Brazil does well on the field, then perhaps people will be happy and not protest as much.” Brazil’s World Cup is an Expensive, Exploitative Nightmare. The Daily Beast.

About John Sigety

John lives in Frisco, Texas and works as a commercial litigator for Hiersche, Hayward, Drakeley & Urbach, P.C., a full-service firm located near Dallas, Texas. John graduated from Tulane University Law School in 2012 with a certificate in Sports Law. He also served as a managing editor for The Sports Lawyers Journal and published an article in the Willamette Sports Law Journal entitled The Cost of Fair Play: An Examination of How Salary Cap Proposals Have Affected Past Collective Bargaining Agreements and Will Affect the Coming NBA Bargaining Negotiations. John graduated from Brigham Young University in 2008 with a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science.

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