Demonstrators carry a banner made of Brazilian national flags during a protest against the Confederations Cup and President Dilma Rousseff’s government, in Recife City June 20, 2013. Reuters/Marcos Brindicci
On Sunday, June 30, as the Brazilian soccer team scored three goals against its Spanish rival in the finals of the most controversial Confederations Cup in history, thousands of Brazilians outside the renovated stadium in Maracanã endured the same tear gas bombs and rubber bullets (manufactured by the Brazilian “nonlethal” arms company Condor) that have been used in countries like Bahrain and Turkey to repress anti-government protesters. Unfair Players: FIFA • Police, read a huge yellow flag carried by protesters.
Over the previous three weeks, more than 1.5 million Brazilians took to the streets in dozens of cities, in protests initially motivated by a hike in public transportation fares but that soon included demands such as the end of corruption, more investment in health and education, and a more consistent urban mobility policy. Brazil’s governors, as well as President Dilma Rousseff and the Congress, were quick to respond to the voices on the streets. Fourteen cities canceled the increase in fares. A $22 billion investment in urban mobility projects was announced. Congress passed a measure that directs all oil royalties collected by the state into public education and health. The Senate passed a proposal to turn corruption into a “heinous crime,” with those found guilty not eligible for parole or amnesty. And the federal government proposed a referendum to change the way political campaigns are financed and to reduce the influence of corporations on government.
However, one issue was left out of these official responses, and it has become the elephant in the room: the 2014 World Cup.
The skyrocketing costs of the World Cup—to be hosted by twelve Brazilian cities—are putting the poor quality of public services into sharp relief. During the Confederations Cup, protesters in host cities walked up to the luxurious, newly renovated stadiums to try to infiltrate the police blockade around the two-kilometer “exclusion zone.” Mandated by FIFA, the soccer world’s governing body, the police opened up with “nonlethal” fire to enforce FIFA’s strict rules against circulating in these areas. In many ways, the protests proved that FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke spoke the truth at a press conference in April when he said, “Less democracy is sometimes better for organizing a World Cup.” He also said he expected fewer problems in Russia in 2018 with President Vladimir Putin.
Inside the exclusion zones, which were granted to FIFA when it signed a contract with the government of Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva in 2007, FIFA not only controls the circulation of people but forbids the sale of products not authorized by the organization. According to the NGO Streetnet, 100,000 street vendors lost their income thanks to similar restrictions during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. In Brazil, popular committees have protested the prohibition on the sale of traditional foods, like Salvador’s Afro-Brazilian deep-fried acarajés. Within the stadiums, security is provided by private contractors paid for by the Brazilian government but chosen by FIFA.