Protesters in Brazil. (Wikimedia Commons)
One has to hearken back to 1968 in Mexico City, when thousands of students and workers marched against the Olympics, to find a sports-related demonstration that compares to the size and militancy of the mass anti–World Cup/Olympic uprising taking place in Brazil.
As in Mexico City thousands of people in Brazil are in the streets—and outside stadiums hosting Confederations Cup matches—raising slogans that connect the spending and austerity that surround these mega-events to a much deeper rot in the nation’s democratic institutions. As in Mexico City the central question is one of priorities: spending for sports while other vital needs—health, education, transportation—go unheeded. As in Mexico City, the spine of protesters is disaffected youth, educated beyond their parents’s generation because of expansions in higher education, but without jobs or opportunity when leaving the academy. As in Mexico City, the ruling elites feel a desperate need for the events to go as planned as a way to demonstrate to the world that Mexico is a leading player in the game of nations.
Also as in Mexico City, we hear the ridiculous canard of those in power not to mix sports and politics. Then it was Avery Brundage, the Nazi-sympathizing head of the International Olympic Committee, railing against what he called “the politicization of sport” and saying that “one of the basic principles of the Olympic games [is] that politics play no part whatsoever in them.” Now it’s the reptilian FIFA chief Sepp Blatter saying, “I can understand that people are not happy, but they should not use football to make their demands heard. Brazil asked to host the World Cup. We did not impose the World Cup on Brazil. They knew that to host a good World Cup they would naturally have to build stadiums.”
And as in Mexico City, the splits in the streets are reflecting themselves in the athletic community as well. Then it was Jesse Owens telling 1968 Olympic protesters John Carlos, Lee Evans and Tommie Smith—all of whom were influenced by the struggles in Mexico City—to just shut up and play. Now it’s Brazilian legend Pelé saying, “Let’s forget all this commotion happening in Brazil, all these protests, and let’s remember how the Brazilian squad is our country and our blood.” Another Brazilian soccer hero, Ronaldo, said in response to critiques over stadium spending, “You can’t hold a World Cup with hospitals.”