‘We Don’t Need The World Cup’: Brazil Erupts In Protests Against Cost Of 2014 Tournament

Brazilian protester holds sign reading, "Health And Education, Not The Cup" (Credit: BBC)

The official slogan of Brazil’s 2014 World Cup is “Juntos num só ritmo,” or “All in one rhythm.” It is a “unifying message which represents the unique flavour” Brazil will bring to the competition, a FIFA Secretary General Jérôme Valcke said, and “an invitation to all Brazilians to join together and celebrate the immense sense of pride in our country’s position on the global stage,” according to Brazil’s sporting minister.

Brazil unveiled the slogan in 2012. It lasted just more than a year before the Brazilian people replaced it on the world stage, unofficially, with a new one: Nos não precisamos da Copa do Mundo. More than 2,000 protesters took that message — “We don’t need the World Cup” — to the streets Saturday outside Brasilia’s Mané Garrincha stadium, where the Confederations Cup, a pre-World Cup tournament, was set to begin. The protests were part of larger movement that began last week across the country, and others followed during Sunday matches in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. They are expected to continue Monday and throughout the Confederations Cup.

Not all of the protests are tied directly to the World Cup: Brazilians rallied throughout last week against fare hikes on public buses, and in Fortaleza, bus drivers called a strike in a fight for higher wages. Activists under the name “Change Brazil” are trying to bring the issues to light around World Cup festivities, producing videos outlining their causes, while other unnamed groups have circulated fliers asking foreign tourists to avoid attending the World Cup next year. The unifying message of the protests is clear: a country with faltering infrastructure, low wages, crowded hospitals, and a crippled education system should be spending money not on soccer stadiums but on efforts to improve the lives of ordinary Brazilians.

At each protest, police showered protesters with tear gas and rubber bullets in an attempt to disperse the crowd. Hundreds have been arrested and dozens injured. The police have, at times, acted “arbitrarily and violently,” according to the Brazilian defense minister.

Mané Garrincha is the symbol of Brazil’s World Cup excess. Opened in 1974, it was deemed inadequate, unsafe, and in need of major renovations for the World Cup. Brazil’s World Cup bid said the country would spend less than $1 billion, mostly from private financing, to renovate seven stadiums and build five more. But Mané Garrincha’s renovations cost $750 million alone, while the total cost of the 12 stadiums is expected to exceed $3 billion, almost all of which has come from the public. Mané Garrincha is the most expensive stadium construction project in Brazilian history.

Meanwhile, the public works projects that were supposed to accompany the World Cup have stalled, with many delayed or canceled, and protesters and activists say politicians and World Cup promoters are ignoring the country’s deeper problems. More than 80 percent of Brazil’s schools are inadequate, according to government watchdogs, and its students rank below average in all three areas of educational attainment monitored by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. In some cities, 70 percent of the water supply goes untreated, and Brazil’s public hospitals are overcrowded. And while Brazil’s minimum wage raises annually, it stands now at roughly $315 a month (the average monthly rent in Brazilian cities tops $400 a month).

If the sparkling soccer and the magnificent stadiums tell the story of the Brazil soccer promoters want to showcase, the protesters are telling the story Brazil and the world are trying so desperately to ignore. Despite claims of a coming economic bonanza, the World Cup cannot and will not solve the problems facing millions of Brazilians: crumbling schools, low wages, poor health programs, and increasing inequality. And so the tournament will fail to live up to the ambitious motto it set for itself, because the Brazil that wants the World Cup and the Brazil that knows it doesn’t need it can’t possibly exist all in one rhythm.