Action Replay: Street Football

The protests in Brazil began at the start of June, with objections to some fairly small increases in public transport fares in São Paulo. By the middle of the month perhaps a quarter of a million people were protesting in towns and cities across the country. The themes of the protests widened to include a clamp-down on government corruption, as the police and military responded with violence and yet more people assembled on the streets – over two million on some accounts.

In contrast to recent events in Turkey, one focus of the protests was specific to Brazil: the building and refurbishing of sports stadiums for football’s Confederations Cup (held this year during the protests) and World Cup (to be held in June and July next year) and the 2016 Olympic Games. The cost of these projects so far has been enormous, way more than what South Africa spent for the 2010 World Cup, even though half the stadiums are still to be finished.

The corruption allegations extend beyond the government to the Brazilian Football Confederation and to FIFA (football’s international governing body, responsible for organising the World Cup). Fans wonder where the money for the stadiums has really gone, and complain about the likely prices for World Cup tickets: these will be cheaper for Brazilians than for international visitors, but still beyond the means of many local supporters. Moreover, while the stadiums have been (partly) built, the government has not been so generous in providing resources for hospitals and schools.

Brazil is part of the BRICS group of nations (with Russia, India, China and South Africa), who are flexing their economic and political muscles as upcoming powers, possessors of raw materials and large potential markets. This has been reflected in the hosting of sports tournaments, such as the South African World Cup and the 2008 Beijing Olympics. But, like its BRICS fellows, Brazil’s economy has not been in good shape lately, with growth in GDP over the last three years being slower than forecast and its currency, the real, being generally seen as overvalued. There is massive inequality, and the favelas on the fringes of major cities are some of the worst slums on the planet.

Brazil is often described as the most football-mad country on Earth. So perhaps it’s not surprising that football has played a part in these mass protests and in sparking demands for greater transparency and better access to services.

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