Currently and until mid-July, millions of people are watching the World Cup games in Brazil. In one of the most enthusiastic countries for soccer, there have been multiple protests, riots and strikes against the FIFA tournament.
FIFA is officially non-profit, but is generally understood to be a great machine of corruption that wastes public funds and gluts corporate partners, similar to how the IOC functions for the Olympics (which will also be held in Brazil in 2016). Various levels of government have spent around 15 billion dollars to build huge stadiums according to FIFA standards, but many of them will be obsolete as soon as the tournament ends. The authorities are considering using the Manaus stadium in the Amazon as a prison, while the historic Maracana stadium has totally lost its charm according to many. Here we are not simply talking of the systematic segregation created by the unaffordable ticket prices; budgets for the construction and preparation of the World Cup have been exceeded, as was the case in South Africa where the national debt doubled after the 2010 World Cup.
What is most shocking is the call for patriotism from the government and the Brazilian elite, asking the masses not to denounce this charade and not to demand any improvement of their conditions of life and work. According to them, the whole country must unite behind the national team and shows pride in the “development” driven by the World Cup. The bourgeois leaders from the so-called Workers Party (that has been in power since 2002) only see the thin layer of rich capitalists around them as they ignore the workers, peasants and the poor from the favelas—cities in the hills surrounding the big cities like Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.
The social cleansing of neighbourhoods around the stadiums have displaced nearly 250,000 people who have been expelled under the threat of police and officials, who marked the houses of the to be expelled residents with paint like we do with trees to be felled in a forest. Already, in June 2013, the largest demonstrations in 20 years were held in Brazil against the increase of transit rates, which added to the general increase in cost of living. These protests were forcefully suppressed, as is the norm in Brazil. This year saw a similar repression against public transport workers, who went on strike against the advice of their union leaders and offered free transportation on certain days. Teachers have also gone on strike to highlight the lack of resources for their students, while the government released the check book for FIFA.
As the Independent Popular Front of Rio de Janeiro—one of the many organizations fighting for a revolutionary change in the country—says: “More worrisome than the orchestrated campaign to discredit those who criticize the World Cup is the movement orchestrated by the Brazilian State to expand the repressive apparatus aiming to stifle the protests during the mega event—and most likely, after. This movement has acted on two fronts: legislative and other overt (military and police). The bills that aim to create the crime of terrorism in Brazil create legal loopholes so that the judiciary can frame social movements and protesters as terrorists.”
With an impunity worthy of the worst moments of the dictatorship that lasted from 1964 to 1985, military police massively invaded slums for allegedly chasing drug traffickers, but these are still benefiting from the World Cup as from the sexual exploitation of Brazilian women forced to serve rich tourists. Chasing drug traffickers is an excuse for the police to control outbreaks of resistance where racial and sexual oppression, as well as social exclusion, are experienced every day, away from glittering shopping malls and Petrobras’ offices.
Here is an account of one such operation in Manguinhos: “About a hundred families occupied an (empty) warehouse behind the library Parque de Manguinhos. Military police tried to forcibly remove the families. Faced with resistance from residents, police fired tear gas and shock grenades; population responded with a hail of rocks and bottles. Then the police started shooting with firearms. Several people were injured. Four young people were shot. One is in serious condition. This is the criminalization of poverty and social movements, struggles and occupations.”
The days leading up to the opening of the World Cup witnessed thousands of indigenous people from Amazonia protesting the theft of their land and the large-scale deforestation for the benefit of food companies and large landowners. Brazil is the country with the highest number of murders and disappearances of environmental activists, because of its immense forest and farmland and strong protests from the landless—the poor peasants and indigenous peoples.
Like any aspect of social life, sport is organized according to the needs of capital. Instead of encouraging the popular practice of the wonderful sport that soccer is, FIFA, with the complicity of governments and capitalists, makes it a market spectacle with bad consequences for the masses: impoverishment, expulsions, racism, sexism, and large-scale repression.
Doubtless all the struggles that have recently emerged in Brazil have strengthened the experience of the revolutionary masses. They now are aware that the so-called “development” supported by Lula’s and Rousseff’s Workers Party is not for them. That the central power is not theirs, but that of a rising bourgeoisie allied with the big imperialist powers.