Photo via AP
Football has always been promoted as a respite from mundane troubles; a game loved by all, where differences and worries can be put aside for 90 minutes; a party both for players and fans. And there is no bigger party than the World Cup. That spiel, however, has soured in the run-up to the first match between Brazil and Croatia. In the first World Cup to be held in a Latin American country in 20 years, threats of mass protests and civil disobedience are serious and have served to tie the mega-event with the broader social realities the host country faces.
As of today, the protests have been massive but far between. Street demonstrations have not yet garnered the momentum they gained during the Confederations Cup almost a year ago, but all signs point to an escalation. Back then, streets were packed with people asking for less attention to be put on football and more attention to wages, housing, transit fares and general socioeconomic conditions in the country.
Now, strikes from police forces in several Brazilian states, and from public transport workers in Sao Paulo have made it clear that the World Cup will serve as the perfect stage for what were already tense labor negotiations with the government. Several workers unions across the country have talked about countrywide strikes and the International Press Service is reporting that there are at least 15 protests scheduled for Opening Day –June 12– on the 12 cities where matches will eventually be held. And all of these manifestations reached a peak on Monday, when a small group of teachers on strike surrounded the Brazilian National Team bus and slowed it down as it tried to leave their hotel in Rio and take the 23 players and staff to its training grounds in Teresopolis. The bus eventually was able to continue on its way and nothing more serious happened than a few stickers pasted on the windows. However, it served as a reminder of the context that surrounds this World Cup.
Brazil in particular –and the region in general– have been looking for ways to showcase their advances, their modernity, and their ability to compete with the biggest economies in the world. These mega-events –World Cups, Olympic Games– usually contribute to amplifying and highlighting many of the domestic tensions the host country is ridden with. That was certainly true of the most recent Winter Olympic Games in Russia, and farther back, of South Africa and its domestic plights.
In the case of Brazil, it’s not only fans and tourists who are anxiously counting the days until the first whistle blows. The Brazilian government must be feeling the pressure as well and it will be very interesting to see how it reacts in the coming days to the heightened — and possibly more radicalized — protests.