Dave Zirin has a book out next week called Brazil’s Dance with the Devil: The World Cup, the Olympics and the Fight for Democracy. His travels to Brazil and work on that project inform much of this article.
For people just tuning in, the idea that people in Brazil would be protesting the 2014 World Cup makes about as much sense as New Yorkers’ rebelling against pizza. And yet here we are, less than one month before the start of the Cup, and demonstrations bear the slogan #NãoVaiTerCopa, or “There will be no Cup.”
Protests, strikes and direct actions have been flaring up across the country as the 2014 FIFA World Cup approaches. Most notably, as many as 10,000 people in São Paolo under the banner of Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement, or MTST, has occupied a major lot next to Arena Corinthians, site of the World Cup’s opening match. They call their occupation “The People’s Cup” and point out that the nearly half a billion dollars that went into building the “FIFA quality stadium” next door could have been used to combat poverty or improve healthcare. The slogan “we want FIFA quality hospitals and schools” still rings out as it did a year ago, when during the Confederation’s Cup, Brazil saw its largest protests in a generation. Now there is an even sharper desperation as the cup approaches. Maria das Dores Cirqueira, 44, a coordinator for the MTST, told the Los Angeles Times, “When the government told us we would host the World Cup, we hoped there would be improvements for us. But they aren’t putting on a Cup for the people, they’re putting on a Cup for the gringos.”
This belief that the lion’s share of Cup expenditures are for foreign consumption, while the disruption and pain will be shouldered by Brazil’s masses, is widespread. Every protest, every rally, every cry of despair is connected to the “the three D’s’”: displacement, debt and defense. The stats on displacement, debt and defense can be numbing or easy to disregard for outsiders. The numbers on people expelled from their homes vary wildly, but without question, hundreds of thousands of the most vulnerable residents in the country have been or will be relocated by either carrot or stick, whether through financial reimbursement or through the barrel of the gun.
As far as debt goes, this will be the most expensive World Cup in history, with a low-estimate price tag of $15 billion. And then there is “defense.” In addition to harsh new “anti-terror” legislation, Brazil’s government will have more boots on the ground than any World Cup has ever witnessed: more than 170,000 security personnel, 22 percent more than South Africa saw in 2010. This brand of “defense” will drive up the displacement and debt on the ground in Brazil, as “safety” becomes the catch-all justification for President Dilma Rousseff and the ruling Workers Party’s every step. It is also “defense” that is driving people and organizations into the streets to say Não Vai Ter Copa. The “defense” operation has put the near-entirety of its focus on internal targets, which creates the appearance that all of this money is being spent to protect wealthy soccer tourists from the people of Brazil themselves. (Yet even some of the internal security measures are not immune from the discontent, as stadium security officers went on strike recently saying that they wanted “FIFA quality wages.”)