The News Minute | June 16, 2014 | 1.57 pm IST
The circumstances in which Brazil is hosting the World Cup has once again raised questions about what it means to be a nation, and where, in ideas of nationhood, do the people stand.
A year ago, a million people staged protests against the Brazil government’s decision to host the World Cup, which would involve massive public spending when its economy was in bad shape.
In a statement emailed to Bloomberg on June 15, Brazil’s President Dilma Rouseff said: “Brazil’s team represents our nationality,” she said in an e-mailed statement yesterday. “It is above governments, political parties and interests of any groups.”
The very same day, Associated Press reported that it was in possession of a video that showed a police officer fire two shots in the air in a bid to disperse protestors ahead of a match in Rio de Janeiro. The city’s Maracana stadium was hosting its first match since 1950, in which Argentina played Bosnia-Herzegovina. Protestors gathered outside the venue held signs saying: "FIFA Go Home".
The seriousness of public anger is indicated by the duration of protests, which have been sprouting across the country in varying magnitudes. At the height of protests, a million people marched across 100 cities in Brazil last year.
Prior to the opening ceremony protests were held across at least 10 Brazilian cities. Demonstrators started fires and threw rocks at the police in an attempt to block the way that led to the Itaquerão stadium, where the ceremony was to be held, states a report carried by The Guardian.
School teachers, bus drivers, students, people from all walks of life protested against the massive expenditure on World Cup infrastructure. There were also protests against the deaths of workers who built this infrastructure. For a photo essay on the protests, see The Telegraph.
According to another report by The Guardian, several activists were arrested by the police including film producer Elisa Quadros, singer and actress Luiza Dreyer and other citizen journalists in surprise raids. The report also suggests that a new law aimed at organized crime may have been used by the cops to question and even punish protestors.
Subway workers in Sao Paulo went on a strike last week before the tournament kicked off, causing massive traffic jams in the city. The strike was later suspended.
Police responded with baton charges, use of tear-gas, resulting on injuries on both sides, and even some deaths of protestors.
The World Cup law
Al Jazeera reports that due to the massive nature of the month-long event, FIFA exhorts host countries to pass laws that would govern the World Cup. Accordlingly, Brazil enacted the Brazil World Cup General Law in 2012. This would regulate security, ticket sales, visa procedures, state liability, labour regulations, infrastructure, and commercial space.
The law also create “exclusive areas” – a two-km radius around which only FIFA-authorised vendors could “distribute, sell, publicise or advertise products and perform services”, Al Jazeera reported.
The report also quoted Killian Doherty, an architect working in areas of conflict who looked at the issue in Cape Town, South Africa, in 2010. She said: “What this meant to Cape Town [South Africa], where a large percentage of the population are reliant on income through informal economies, was a huge loss of income and livelihoods, through wholesale discriminatory practises.”
Reporting for Al Jazeera, Elizabeth Gorman writes: “The law, punishable by up to a year in jail, lasts until after the event ends - December 31, 2014 - and is enforced by a special group of FIFA agents, civil and military police, and the municipal guard, according to a Rio security official, focused on FIFA-related branding.”
Angered over the coverage of the unrest in Brazil over the government’s decision to host the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016, The Guardian reports on how Brazilians took it upon themselves to set the record straight. It reports on Midia Ninja, a group of citizen journalists who had managed to reach 1,80,000 people in one go through live streaming of their reporting. The group had emerged during last year’s protests.
It quotes Felipe Altenfelder, a founding member of Mídia Ninja: "Contrary to most of the reports in Brazil's mass media, the wave of protests and occupations in our country are not carried out by 'thugs' or a manipulated throng. "This is about a crisis for democracy and more rights, and this new independent media in Brazil, streaming and circulating thousands of photos and videos in real time, has played a decisive role in making sure those protests were properly covered.”
Brazil’s economic troubles
The Guardian report also says that when the decision to host the World Cup was taken in 2007, the mood in Brazil was enthusiastic. But so was the economy then. A survey in March “showed that 49% of Brazilians now thought the Cup would bring more harm than good, with just 36% believing that it would benefit the country.”
Most estimates peg the total cost of the World Cup at 11 billion USD – the most expensive World Cup in history, and Brazilians believe that it is they who will ultimately foot the bill, The Guardian reports.
Brazil is South America’s largest economy and the world’s seventh largest, according to the BBC. In May, the BBC quoted official sources stating that Brazil’s economy grew just 0.2 percent in early 2014 and that this year saw the country’s biggest decline in business investment by 2.1 percent in the first quarter.
Football icon Pele insists that in spite of all the difficulties and the impending presidential elections, Brazilians should not mix sports and politics. A Daily Mail report quotes him as saying: "Our team has nothing to do with the ongoing corruption that has delayed construction of the stadiums. It is not the problem of the players but the situation worries me a great deal. The evil people who have stolen all the money are to blame. Protests against corruption are understandable – but not the use of the force."
That these protests are happening in a country that gave football Pele, the bare-foot Brazilian footballer, is significant. The protests are not just about anger against the government, and definitely not against the beautiful game. As protestors repeatedly tell anyone who will listen, they are also about more democracy.
This is what Rafael Vilela, (photographer and another founder member of Mídia Ninja) has to say: "Who would have thought that in the land of football, the population would take to the streets and social networks to criticise the World Cup and the investment in the stadiums. But they are seeing the real cost: the poor removed from their homes, favelas occupied by a 'pacifying' police force, and other violent approaches to redevelopment of their cities which is driven by the needs of Fifa and the sponsors, rather than the needs of the people.”
Is the Brazilian nation listening to its people?