In a few hours Brazil will kick-off against Croatia to officially begin the 2014 World Cup. The host nation, Brazil, has won the Cup—humanity’s largest sporting event—a record five times and is the favorite again this year. Children play football in the streets, banks close before big matches and retired players get elected to public office. Brazil is o País do Futebol—the country of football. This should be a party. It’s not; it’s a protest.
A year ago Brazilian social movements began to take to the streets and link their various issues with the approaching World Cup. The nation has spent billions of dollars building stadiums that fit criteria designed by FIFA, football’s international governing body. The improved infrastructure promised by the Brazilian government as part their World Cup bid has largely been unfulfilled. Protests have sprung up around the nation demanding “FIFA quality” public transportation and schools.
I have a dilemma here. I am excited for the World Cup. I am also sympathetic to the social movements.
The critique centers around two things; government corruption and priority. The money spent lining the pockets of politicians and building stadiums could be much better spent. And I agree. The problem is this is not an issue isolated to Brazil. It’s related to any mega events and I reject the notion that they should exclusively be hosted in nations “better suited,” which is euphuism for “rich countries.” The World Cup is right where it belongs in South America.
I lived on that continent for three years and one of the things I loved most was the power of the social movements. There is a false narrative in parts of the U.S. that says South American governments are weak; it’s actually that the people are strong. When people disagree with their government they do not hesitate to express that and if need be remove them—and that is something to admire, not belittle.
There are a lot of problems, but maybe we can fix some of them. For example, the World Cup has caused a sharp spike in housing prices. This means that landlords have increased income while renters have increased costs—widening economic inequality. It does not have to be that way. I’m not saying the solutions are easy, but they are possible.
I’m happy that people are in the streets drawing attention to problems (and hopefully setting a positive precedent). I’m also happy that Brazil is hosting the World Cup. You don’t have to choose one or the other.