Rioter in Brazil: On the eve of the opening match

I’ve been a few days in Brazil. It is starting to feel like the World Cup. I arrived in São Paulo in the middle of a transit strike. A normal chaotic drive through the downtown core turned into a two-hour crawl from the airport. Advertising from the World Cup sponsors (you’ll know who they are so I wont have to repeat their names here) seemed to be the most dominant presence.


Yesterday I made it with my brother to Museo do Futebol in Sao Paulo’s first major stadium: Pacaembu, the first home of Corinthians, Brazil’s largest professional team and soon to be owners of the World Cup’s opening stadium.


Graffiti on one of the walls leading to the museum read “FUCK FIFA”. Brazilians are pissed off about the billions spent for lavish stadiums that have become more exclusive and less democratic. Money that should have been spent on healthcare, education, and transportation infrastructure protestors claim. Meanwhile FIFA will make billions from ticket sales and sponsorships. Previous World Cups have had mixed economic benefits for the host country. John Oliver has popularly outlined how FIFA has manipulated the political-economy of Brazil’s World Cup to make itself rich.


Football, however, seems like the easy target. Major media in the lead up to the kick off has targeted problems: the political corruption, the construction delays and cancelled projects, state led violence, and the poverty and inequality. On my arrival to São Paulo, the sprawling city had faced two days of transit chaos caused by a shutdown of the city’s metro by striking workers. Images of police clashing with the workers fit with the story building. Brazil wont finish the stadiums, wont be prepared, and that the people do not want to host the Cup.


Its hard to know what Brazilians are thinking about on the eve of the first match. Anxiety seems to be the dominant emotion. Fear that the planes wont fly on time, transit will be in perpetual chaos, violence will take to the street, the country will be seen as a bad host, and Neymar gets injured. In the Museo, the Maracanazo is documented with all of its tragedy. The first World Cup Brazil hosted in 1950 ended in a disaster: Uruguay was crowned champions in front of 200 000 in Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana Stadium. The second goal that put Uruguay ahead, scored by Alcides Ghiggia on the short side of Brazilian keeper Barbosa, is considered to be the most dramatic ever. A repeat might break the confidence of Brazilians.


This World Cup was awarded in 2007 to great fanfare and was warmly received by many Brazilians. It was hailed as a signal that Brazil was prepared to enter the pantheon of leading world economies, just like the 1950 World Cup was to signal the rise of a modern, multi-racial country. History has revealed the struggles to realize the 1950 dream and there might yet be a similar story to this World Cup.


Yet Brazil’s political-economic problems are not only football’s to bare. If you are outraged by what FIFA has done to the sport, I think it is only fair to suggest that the target is too small. We live in a world full of contradictions and problems. The changes in the sport of football from 1950 to today have been mediated through global capitalism. The damages brought to people’s lives and the foolish appropriation of resources away from healthcare, education, and infrastructure maybe present in this World Cup but they are not mainly just the fault of one four-year ‘bread and circus’.


As my scene changed from São Paulo to Fortaleza, Brazilian flags began to appear on the windows of cars and on balconies. Children and grandparents alike adorn the gold of the seleçáo. Even more important, however, has been the arrival of international fans. Costa Ricans in red with blue and white trim, Mexicans making their connection to Natal, and the celeste of Uruguay have changed the colour and atmosphere. Celebration is starting to take over the pessimism and anxiety–not to dissolve or forget about the problems–maybe because there is still something beautiful about the people’s game.


I’ll be trying to keep a semi-regular blog (with more pictures, promise!) from Brazil during the group stage. You can follow my twitter here:


Written by Matthew Hawkins

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