Brazilian Protests, the World Cup and the Future of Brazil


2013-07-03 By Kenneth Maxwell

Fifa apparently prohibits cursing at football games.

Or so an avid fan of “Vasco,” one of the Rio de Janeiro football teams, tells me. I don’t know if this is true. But it seems probable. Though I don’t see how such a rule can be enforced.

But then I suppose it is easier for Fifa to prohibit cursing at football games than it is to prohibit corruption in football.

It is a pity that the late Nelson Rodrigues, the great Brazilian iconoclast, playwright, journalist and novelist (and avid fan of “Fluminense,” the other major football team in Rio de Janeiro) was not among us this past week to comment on the popular uprisings on the streets of Brazil.

He was usually skeptical about such movements: “A grande vaia e mil vezes mais forte, mais poderosa, mais nobre do que a grande apoteose. Os admiradores corompem”  (“The great jeer is a thousand times stronger, more powerful, more noble than the great apotheosis”).

Mass mobilizations on the streets in Brasilia, Sao Paulo. Rio de Janeiro, and elsewhere in Brazil, have underscored population demands that less money be spent on football, and more on public transportation, on health, and on education. Credit Image: Bigstock

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and “Sepp” Blatter, the boss of Fifa, might have noted this admonition.

“Sepp” Blatter was back in Brazil this week for the final of the Confederations Cup in Rio de Janeiro.

But with continuing unrest on the streets throughout Brazil, and in face of the collapse of President Rousseff’s popularity, where her public approval has fallen in three weeks from 57% to 30%, a fall of 27 points, Blatter has not (apparently) been seeking a “Plan B” for next year’s World Cup, if Brazil is deemed incapable of staging it.

Though Blatter could always, of course, encourage Qatar to bring forward its plans (Doha after all has the money).

Qatar, the tiny Gulf emirate, is the world’s top liquid gas exporter, and has allocated 40% of its budget in 2016 to infrastructure projects, and is expected to spend US$ 220 billion in preparations for hosting the World Cup in 2022, including US$5.5 billion to create an island with floating hotels to house the football fans.

In Qatar homosexuality is illegal. But “Sepp” Blatter joked that gay football fans could “abstain from sex” while they were there.

Fifa is “investigating” claims that bribes were paid in the run up to Qatar’s victory. The Emir of Qatar has just handed over power to his 33-year-old son in a peaceful transition.

The population of Qatar is 1.9 million. To get some sense of contrast, well over a million turned out on the streets of Brazil in protest last week. 

President Dima Rousseff has suggested a plebiscite, and has promised more money for public transportation and education. Much of this is to be financed (apparently) by the (anticipated) royalties from petroleum.

But Eike Batista’s enterprises, are already in deep trouble. As is (apparently) Petrobras.

Many outside financial advisers say Brazil needs less state control, not more, but this is not on President Rousseff’s agenda.

Nelson Rodriques said that at “Maracana tem a vocacao e a nostalgia de vaia. Repito – la vaia-se tudo, desde o momento de silencio. E antes da entrada de times, vaia-se o gramado.”

(At the Maracana, the football stadium in Rio de Janeiro, they have a vocation and a nostalgia for the jeer. I repeat – they jeer at everything, even the moment of silence.  And before the entrance of the football teams they even jeer the grass.”)

Brazil won the Fifa confederations cup on Sunday beating Spain decisively 3-0.

It was a famous victory to be sure.

But after the mass mobilizations on the streets in Brasilia, Sao Paulo. Rio de Janeiro, and elsewhere in Brazil, where the population is demanding that less money be spent on football, and more on public transportation, on health, and on education, all bets are off, and Brazil’s political leaders are facing an unexpected crisis of leadership.