Everyone by now has caught on to the World Cup. I write this a few hours before heading to my first match: Uruguay vs Costa Rica. Yesterday we took in the day’s matches at a Bar on the Praia do Futuro, a kilometres long beach with rolling waves. Brazilians celebrated the dismantling of the Spanish national team, as did several of the Uruguayans in attendance. A feeling that Brazil’s slow start to the World Cup at least ended in a win.
A day earlier my brother and I watched the game at the FIFA Fan Fest in Fortaleza. Giant bottles of pop and only one beer company allowed in but not the one the rest of the world gets to see on TV. At least in Brazil its a national brand from the monolithic company that owns most of the major beer brands.
The whole atmosphere of advertisements was ironic given that major cities like São Paulo have passed Cidade Limpia—Clean City–laws that have dramatically cut down advertising in public spaces. There is a noticeable lack of billboards, posters, and glaring electronic signs along Brazilian streets. Until you encounter something FIFA. Sponsorship has taken over and driven away the ‘competition’. Yet on the street just outside of the Fan Fest barriers, sellers daily bring their carts with rows of bottles of liquor, ready to make caipirinhas and other mixed drinks with skill, and undercut the price of beer served inside by one to two Reais.
Watching the Brazil-Croatia match in the FIFA Fan Fest, however, revealed the popularity of the national team. A section of the beach several hundred metres long was covered in yellow. I have no way of estimating the crowd as an infinite number of heads appeared in front and behind me. And there was more or less a broad representation of Brazilians economic and racial diversity, with an overwhelming number of teenagers. Plus many Uruguayans and a few other ‘gringos’.
Thankfully we were spared the Opening Ceremony and only saw a short montage of human plants, Brazilian traditional dances, and Pitbull’s pants. Organizers knew that the people here only really cared about the ‘main event’. The opening match of the seleção in the World Cup is dramatic enough.
A brief flurry of attacks led by Neymar Jr. inspired the crowd to let go of their nervous apprehensions. Maybe Brazil is going to dominate after all? Well until Marcelo snuck one past Julio Cesar. All of a sudden the fear that this whole thing was going to go wrong came back. But Brazil started to press again and Neymar found an exposed corner from a surprisingly slow Croatian keeper. A “third backup for Tottenham” said one Yid supporter in Brazil. Second half, the match going on 1-1, Brazilians sensing something was about to happen. And it did. The controversy that everyone has talked about, Fred’s twist and collapse to the ground in the area. A penalty. And then the ‘outrage’ on twitter that followed. More on that later. Croatia started to press forward, chasing the game that they wanted to tie, and came up with some chances but Oscar’s toe poke from distance capped off a brilliant game for the midfielder. One of the few typically Brazilian performers on the night.
First matches are typically nervous affairs. No team, I imagine, has experienced more pressure than Brazil for this World Cup. With all the problems in the lead up, five-time champions are not just carrying expectations but the responsibility of making this cup worthwhile for the host country.
After the Brazil match we wandered the beach front promenade and encountered two brothers from São Paulo drinking beers and pretending to be Uruguayans with broken portuguese. Fanatics of São Paulo FC, these two clearly knew their football history. And we talked about the problems of the World Cup, the expensive stadiums, and they admitted to the ‘dive’ of Fred though they expressed no shame in the play.
A young Brazilian man joined us, sat talking with the Paulistas as we shared our beer. After a while he drifted away as others came by to chat. The police keeping a watchful eye on the Praia walked in groups of two to six officers. A calm and celebratory night with many teenagers given free reign to celebrate along the promenade.
Out of nowhere a young woman emerged from the beach and yelled out to the police. Guns drawn the officers jumped the barrier and down onto the beach. Several minutes later they were dragging the young man with whom we had shared beers to the street curb. A police car pulled up and four more officers joined the two dragging the obviously intoxicated man, tears coming down his face, and a slight struggle in his body. A strong fist slammed into his back and he collapsed. One more and his body went limp and he was stuffed into the back of the car.
The young officer who had been walking the promenade came over and said in simple portuguese, “the beach is now safe. No need to worry.” I was not really feeling this to be now true.
Police violence is a destructive disease. Our Brazilian friends were simultaneously outraged and embarrassed. And viscerally helpless. They told us how “this is Brazil” and that “police everywhere here are like this”. We don’t know what happened to the young man, as he was taken away in the trunk of the police car, our friend commented “no one will probably see him again. He will probably end up dead.” Not to say this is the truth but it is certainly the sentiment that many have when they are in police custody here.
The young “tourist police” had disappeared with the car, maybe to return to the station to write the report that justified the ‘good work’ and ‘necessary violence’ inflicted onto this body of a human. They left behind two much larger and heavily armed officers of a different police force to maintain the performance. As two young men of noticeably darker skin walked by they stopped them, one officer drawing his gun while the other humiliatingly searched the two. His hands aggressively searching their bodies. Then letting them go as obviously there was nothing to find.
Such scenes like this contrast and compliment the World Cup. To be fair, in a way the media has not been, FIFA did not ‘make’ this situation but it also has not made it any better. Police forces have been rewarded with new weapons and more overtime. While many of Brazil’s problems the World Cup brings forward the contradictions and creates small opportunities to discuss the realities which many Brazilians face. Yet I cannot help but feel the sense of international patronizing when the police violence shown against protestors and strikers has been represented as the “World Cup”. As if our international gauze is such a powerful tool to stop something Brazilians have be forced to deal with for decades.
Football is popular because it simultaneously reflects the narratives that people use to get through life. Moments in a match become symbolic. Twisting rules and subverting authorities has for a long time been important to South American football. It drives many Europeans (English) crazy. When rule of law is so violently aggressive and obviously discriminatory, why accept it at face value? Fred’s subversion of the authority’s attention didn’t cause the same outrage here as it did in Europe and North America. In part because its Brazil’s team but it is not only just that. For many the rules and laws are not clear and only seem to work in the favour of the powerful. Subverting authority, showing it to be limited, and making them work in your favour from time to time is the only way survive. Sometimes you might even win.
My apologies, I’ve been sharing the hotel’s wifi with the Costa Rican national team and their entourage. It has been difficult to upload photos. And apologies for the typos, no time to edit! Off to the Castelão! Vamo’Uruguay!