With the eyes of the soccer-watching world focused on the Confederations Cup in Brazil over the past week, the biggest story coming out of the country hasn’t been Spain’s 10-0 thumping of Tahiti or Mario Balotelli’s relatively mundane hairdo, but a massive wave of civil disobedience that has swept through the Brazil’s streets and used the platform offered by the tournament to make headlines around the world.
What began as protests centered around a 20 cent rise in transportation fees in Sao Paolo has evolved into a nationwide uprising centered around social and economic inequality, a rising cost of living and the Brazilian government’s enormous expenditures in preparing for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. The demonstrations have gradually gained momentum; what began as a few thousand people protesting in Sao Paolo last week evolved into roughly 100,000 people in both Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paolo on Monday. By Thursday, estimates had over 1 million people flocking to the streets across numerous cities, railing against government corruption and clashing with riot police.
In the midst of it all, citizens of the soccer-mad nation have geared their criticisms toward the skyrocketing spending associated with the Confederations Cup, the World Cup next year, and the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. Brazil has spent over $3 billion on stadium construction and renovations alone in preparation for the global showpiece next summer, with billions more allocated toward improving infrastructure. In a nation that still experiences widespread, near-epidemic levels of crime and poverty that have only recently been alleviated by a rapidly-growing middle class, concerns over precious resources put toward staging sporting events — at the expense of better hospitals and schools — have fueled unrest.
Still, the mass demonstrations have raised doubts around the Confederations Cup, with FIFA having to vehemently deny suggestions that they would cancel the tournament, while further speculation has arisen concerning Brazil’s hosting of the World Cup as well. Some of Brazil’s biggest soccer heros have joined the conversation, albeit with differing views. The national hero known as Pele reversed course this week after earlier calling for protesters to “forget all this commotion” and focus instead on the national team, a move that prompted widespread criticism. 2002 World Cup winner Ronaldo, meanwhile, had to defend statements made two years ago when he reportedly claimed that “You can’t hold the World Cup with hospitals.”
Two former stars who have been consistent in their support of the protests, however, are Ronaldo’s fellow 2002 World Cup winner Rivaldo and 1994 World Cup hero Romario. Rivaldo took to Twitter, defending the protests and stating that “At this moment we aren’t in shape to host the World Cup, we don’t need it, we need education and health.” Socialist party member Romario, meanwhile, posted a video that fiercely criticized the government’s spending in preparation for the tournament. “The money spent in Mané Garrincha Stadium [in Brasília] could have been used to build 150,000 homes for people of low income, medium income or no income,” Romario said.
Staging global sporting events like the World Cup and the Olympics are no small feat, especially for a developing nation like Brazil very much is; one only has to look so far as Greece, which hosted the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, to see the impact that reckless public spending on such events can have on a country’s economy. Hosting the World Cup and the Olympics over the course of three years was supposed to be Brazil’s moment in the global spotlight — an opportunity to celebrate the nation’s vibrant culture and love of sport. While Brazil’s citizens have every right to use that very platform to advocate serious socio-economic issues of undoubted importance, one can only hope that the disobedience remains civil and does not jeopardise what should be a joyous, celebratory occasion next summer.