By Nadia Mansoor
The World Cup is arguably the most watched sporting event around the world. Millions of fans from around the world come together to root for their home teams and get a healthy dose of sportsmanship during the month-long tournament, but this year Brazil’s societal problems are taking the spotlight.
While soccer fans gather in homes, bars and in stadiums, protesters have taken to the streets of Brazil’s largest cities denouncing FIFA’s corruption and the Brazilian government’s astronomical $11 billion dollar spending on the event. According to a Pew Research study, 61% of Brazilians believe that the World Cup will be harmful to the nation and this money could have been better utilized to handle poor infrastructure, high taxes and under-funded health and education programs. The FIFA organization is under fire for being granted full tax-exemptions (along with its contractors) and creating a 2km ‘exclusivity-zone’ in which only FIFA-authorized vendors may sell, further hindering the potential economic benefits of hosting a World Cup.
The demonstrations that began over a year ago, with hundreds of thousands of participants, has only escalated in recent weeks. Brazilian police have done nothing to ease tensions and have tried to quell protesters with rubber bullets, tear gas and physical violence, proving only to add flame to the riotous fire. Anti-FIFA graffiti has begun inundating public space, depicting starving children, profanities and angry messages.
After being jeered at the opening game of the World Cup, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff reminded the people not to mix up soccer and politics. Statements like this further prove the lack of cohesion between the government and its people. By supporting the World Cup expenditures and failing to address national problems, President Rousseff is digging herself into a deeper fiasco as the upcoming October presidential race looms and unrest boils over.
With the 2016 Olympics slated to be held in Rio de Janeiro, one can only hope that the backlash of the World Cup will encourage the Brazilian government to make profound changes both economically and societally. Perhaps with the spotlight on current protests, the international community can encourage Brazil’s government to take action before it is too late and the country falls into anti-government turmoil. Even so, the crackdown on protestors will be in the Brazilian psyche for some time to come.
Nadia Mansoor is a Strategic Trust-Building Initiative intern at EWI's New York center.