World Cup: the show must go on….but so will the protests


Brazil is just hours away from the opening of the 2014 World Cup, but São Paulo, host city of the first match, is a place of uncertainty and tension rather than jubilation.

After days of chaos caused by a five-day strike by subway workers, transport services in the city of 12 million people resumed on Tuesday.

However, the threat of a new strike is looms over the city, threatening to disrupt transport plans for the opening match.

“The World Cup is about to start, then we have presidential elections in October. This is such a new and unique moment,” Altino Melo dos Prazeres, president of the subway workers union, told Equal Times.

The union is calling for a 12.2 per cent pay rise for workers in order to meet the rising cost of living, but the government is offering only 8.7 per cent.

According to the Governor of São Paulo, Geraldo Alckmin, 42 workers were dismissed for abusive and aggressive behaviour and 300 other workers may lose their jobs if they do not show up for work today.

The government claims that the strike is opportunistic, while workers’ representatives maintain their right to protest and demand the reinstatement of all dismissed workers.

But the subway strikes are just the latest in a series of protests, strikes and demonstrations that have swept Brazil in the run up to the World Cup.

The demonstrations originally began last June in response to a violent police crackdown on protestors marching against the rising cost of public transport.

But the protests soon became an expression of the anger and frustration over the US$11 billion spent on hosting the games – the costliest games in World Cup history.

“It’s absolutely unbelievable that we live in a country so rich in natural resources and yet there are thousands of people who live in extremely precarious conditions,” said student Vinicius Pereira during a World Cup protest in São Paulo.

Many Brazilians believe would have been better spent on improving healthcare, housing, education and other public services.

The run-up to the World Cup has also been marred by claims from activists that over 250,000 Brazilians have been forcefully removed from their houses or were threatened with eviction to make way for new World Cup infrastructure.

The government of President Dilma Rousseff is now so concerned about the threat posed by anti-World Cup protestors that US$850 million is being spent to protect players and stadia.


A real legacy

One of the principal benefits of the 2014 World Cup has been the creation of an estimated 20,000 temporary and permanent jobs directly related to the event across the country.

However, Manoel Messias, secretary of labour relations at one of Brazil’s national trade union centres, Central Única dos Trabalhadores (CUT), recently told reporters more than just jobs, Brazilians want a World Cup that will leave a legacy of a greater respect for human rights, quality jobs and better working conditions.

“It’s extremely important that we take advantage of this big event to improve our lives as workers and human beings,” he said.

According to renowned Brazilian sociologist Professor Marco Aurélio Nogueira, big football events have been one of the few unifying events in a country which is still divided along socio-economic and racial lines.

But now that the “spiritual home of football” is hosting the World Cup, it has only served to exacerbate social tensions in the country.

“The truth is that people have realised that the World Cup is not a saving grace.

“Everyone will watch the games and even cheer for Brazil, but with no great excitement. Brazilians have more reasons to be proud than just the (performance of the) national football team. Life is bigger than a football match.”

The protests in Brazil also mirror the growing worldwide outrage against FIFA, the world football governing body recently described as “comically grotesque organisation”.

Mired in corruption scandals and led by the deeply unpopular Sepp Blatter, FIFA is facing criticism for everything from making exorbitant profits from host nations to taking bribes to host the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.