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 Homeless 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 was hit by 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. That is, 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.")
As Brazilians suffer these unprecedented disruptions into their lives, the words of those in charge could not be more tone deaf. Brazil's Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo huffed in March that any anger would dissipate by the time the Cup was underway, saying "People will be more concerned with celebrating rather than protesting".
FIFA General Secretary Jerome Valcke seemed to pine for the dictatorial Brazil of yesteryear when he said that "working with democratically elected governments can complicate organizing tournaments". The foot-in-mouth Valcke also commented recently that FIFA has been "through hell" trying to keep the World Cup on schedule.
It is safe to guess that the "hell" of having your home bulldozed or being beaten and gassed by police is slightly worse than anything Valcke has had to endure.
The calls for protest aim to highlight the pain as well as show the world who is behind the curtain, pulling the strings. There is a highly sophisticated awareness that just as the government's World Cup plans for Brazil are designed for international consumption, there is also an unprecedented global spotlight.
The great journalist Eduardo Galeano once wrote: "There are visible and invisible dictators. The power structure of world football is monarchical. It's the most secret kingdom in the world."
Protesters aim for nothing less than to drag FIFA from the shadows and into the light. If they are successful, it will leave a legacy that will last longer than the spectacle itself.
[Reprinted from The Nation.]
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Brazil: World Cup to kick environment in the teeth
By Dave Zirin, April 24
As Brazil prepares to host the World Cup in June and the 2016 Olympics, a topic that plagues the country is the impact hosting these games will have on its environment and various ecosystems.
Football’s ruling body, FIFA, is trying to “greenwash” the games by holding “green events” during the World Cup, putting out press releases about infrastructure building with recycled materials and talking about how the stadiums are designed to capture and recycle rainwater. But the truth is not nearly so rank with patchouli oil.
No matter the country, the environmental footprint of these sporting mega-events looks like a stomping combat boot. The impact of air travel alone, with private planes crisscrossing Brazil, a country larger than the continental United States, will be staggering.
According to FIFA’s own numbers, internal travel in Brazil during the World Cup will produce the equivalent of 2.72 million metric tons of greenhouse gases. That’s the equivalent of 560,000 passenger cars driving for one year.
Climate change, and advice from the global North about how to treat the environment, is an extremely sensitive subject in Brazil. This is a country whose environmental concerns are global concerns, as it is home of the Amazon rainforest. Called the “lungs of the earth”, the Amazon rainforest creates 20% of the earth’s oxygen and 25% of its drinkable fresh water.
It has also been razed and burned with shocking speed as Brazil’s economy has hummed, with double digit economic growth over much of the past decade.
It is, of course, not difficult to understand why the last thing people in Brasilia want to hear are lectures about climate change from the global North. The Amazon rainforest has been plundered by foreign adventurers as well as multinational corporations for decades.
As the former president Lula once said: “What we cannot accept is that those who failed to take care of their own forests, who did not preserve what they had and deforested everything and are responsible for most of the gases poured into the air and for the greenhouse effect, they shouldn’t be sticking their noses into Brazil’s business and giving their two cents’ worth.”
He certainly has a point, although it says something damning about our world that the logic of our system dictates Brazil’s sovereign right to destroy the “lungs of the world”.
With statements that make destroying rainforests sound like a bold act of global South defiance, Lula also disregarded the powerful history of Brazil’s own environmental community. This was one of the crucial forces in the founding of his own Workers’ Party and it has been fighting for decades to preserve the Amazon.
As legendary Brazilian environmentalist Chico Mendes put it: “At first I thought I was fighting to save rubber trees; then I thought I was fighting to save the Amazon rainforest. Now I realise I am fighting for humanity.”
There is no question the World Cup will put greater stress on Brazil’s critical ecosystem. This can be seen most clearly in the efforts to build a “FIFA-quality stadium” in the middle of the Amazon rainforest.
Brazil will spend US$325 million, almost $40 million more than the original estimates, while uprooting acres of the most ecologically delicate region on the planet. The project has been a disaster since the first plant life was destroyed, before the cement was even poured.
Building a new stadium does not just ignore environmental concerns, it defies logic ― the Amazon is already home to a stadium that draws far less than its capacity. And all of this to house a mere four World Cup matches.
Even those in Brazil who believe fiercely in the national autonomy of the rainforest region, without interference from international environmental bodies, are crying foul. Romario, the football star-turned-politician, called the project “absurd”.
He said, “There will be a couple games there, and then what? Who will go? It is an absolute waste of time and money.”
Since this particular white elephant seems to be uniting opposition from both the “wasteful spending” crowd and the “pro-breathing” crowd, the government is looking for options for the stadium after the World Cup that seem fiscally sound.
One idea is to turn the entire stadium into a huge open-air prison ― a use with a notoriously bloody echo in Latin American history, and not lost on those protesting the priorities of both FIFA and the Brazilian government.
“Profits first, Brazil’s environment last,” is not a very peppy slogan but it would be more than fitting for the 2014 World Cup.
[Reprinted from Edge of Sports.]