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‘Terrorism’, Violence and Football: Is Brazil Ready For The World Cup?

Impact Travel reports from Brazil, where the excitement of the world cup is beginning to turn sour.

Back in 2007, when Brazil was elected to host the upcoming FIFA World Cup 2014, it was very unlikely to imagine Brazilians protesting against what seems to be the ultimate national symbol. In June 2013, however, it became clear that the World Cup had never been just about football as millions took over the streets. Protests have resumed this January, and many are sceptical about the smooth running of the event this year.

Demands remain the same. Everyone seems to wish for investments in education, healthcare and urban planning to be as generous as Brazil has been to the sports event. Amongst some violent shocks between protesters and the police, at least 24 people have already died.

They hope to raise awareness about the consequences which no one else but Brazilians will have to deal with.

As protests become more and more violent from both fronts, the Black Blocs – a popular rebel group – started spreading the hashtag #NãoVaiTerCopa, which means ‘there will be no World Cup’. They do not believe the event will be cancelled, but they hope to raise awareness about the consequences which no one else but Brazilians will have to deal with after tourists and international TV crews leave the country in July.

Some four months before the event begins, constructions of stadiums, roads and airports inflate costs and trigger suspicion as to whether the country will be fully ready to host the event. Out of the twelve stadiums, for example, only seven of them are completely ready. Their initial cost was at £651mi in 2007, which has now skyrocketed to £2.1bi. The total budget for the event has swollen in 130%, out of which some 85% are to be paid for with public money. Meanwhile, FIFA have already declared they will have record profits: on top of a £250mi tax exemption, the Switzerland-based organisation expects to take home £2.2bi.

The improvements in urban infrastructure have been the scapegoat for the organisation of the World Cup to justify its budget.

Former estimates by the Brazilian Ministry of Tourism claimed the country would cash in £6.3bi from tourists. A figure which has already been easily overcome by the total costs of £6.5bi published by the Federal Government. However, as prospective advantages are very difficult to be foreseen, what seems to be unarguable, on the other hand, is the social burden Brazilians will be left with, especially “the irrelevant urban legacy”, as pointed by Raquel Rolnik, UN special rapporteur on Adequate Housing and former National Secretary for Urban Programmes of the Brazilian Ministry of Cities.

The improvements in urban infrastructure have been the scapegoat for the organisation of the World Cup to justify its budget, but, according to Mrs Rolnik, projects as they are being developed “were never priorities in urban mobility”. Meanwhile, the National Articulation of Popular Committees of the World Cup claims that 250,000 people have already been removed from their homes due to projects related to both the World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

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On February 6th, Santiago Andrade, a cameraman for TV channel Band, was hit in the head by an explosive squib ignited by a protester during a confrontation with the police in the city centre of Rio. Mr Andrade died four days later. This was the first death not to be the direct result of the police but of a protester. On February 11th, newspaper O Globo published an editorial blaming all social movements, workers unions, and left-wing parties for Mr Andrade’s death. This echoed another editorial published by the same newspaper in 1964, which openly supported the military dictatorship in Brazil.

“It is curious that all conducts foreseen in the project which cause objective damage to life and to property are already considered crimes by the Brazilian legal order”.

It was not just the media which have used the tragedy to boost their political agenda. A bill from 2013 has made its way back on the spotlight as the Conservative caucus in the Senate pushes for its approval. It creates a new category in the Brazilian penal code, that of ‘terrorism’. As Deisy Ventura, professor of International Relations at the University of São Paulo, argues: “It is curious that all conducts foreseen in the project which cause objective damage to life and to property are already considered crimes by the Brazilian legal order”. The bill has been infamously nicknamed the World Cup’s AI-5. It stands for Institutional Act Number Five, a major decree issued by the military dictatorship in 1968 which made it possible for the army to arbitrarily interfere in city councils, state and national parliaments, to censor media and cultural production, and to arrest anyone involved in protests and strikes under extremely vague notions of ‘national security’.

Violence is increasing all around, but protests do not seem to be heading for an end.

Violence is increasing all around, but protests do not seem to be heading for an end. If the media and the Conservative sector of Brazilian society will work even harder to criminalise those protesting or if the Black Blocs will continue to stain the public opinion on protests that include countless other groups, the remaining question is: are foreigners ready to put aside their Caipirinhas and discuss politics in-between football matches?

Gianlluca Simi 

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