As host cities prepare for the World Cup, Brazilians are increasingly disillusioned against the backdrop of unimproved social and economic conditions
‘Abusive’. This is the word used by São Paulo Regional Labour Court to describe the strike action of the transport workers, less than a week before the opening match of the World Cup 2014. Turmoil and embarrassment seem to be the two words that have accompanied the news about Brazil’s efforts to be ready for the tournament. Many would consider the strike action as being just another item in the long list of setbacks to Brazil’s preparation for the World Cup. But are the protests really a setback? How ‘abusive’ are the strikes when Brazilians see their public money (25.8 billion reais) invested in stadiums, while a great part of the population has no access to quality health care, education and transport?
Images of Fuleco, the armadillo mascot, almost dying and waiting to be treated at a hospital, illustrate frustration at these misplaced priorities. However, the discourse that emphasises how Brazil is investing money in the World Cup without providing the basics for its population has at times turned into a simplistic cliché, lacking careful consideration or knowledge of the Brazilian socio-cultural and historical context. That said, it is an important sign that daily images and headlines of protests are detracting from the actual football matches and its millionaire stars. The question raised by Brazilians – World Cup for whom? – is echoing worldwide and has meant that the population is not passively accepting that public money is vanishing with no significant social return.
The misidentification of the Brazilian public with the World Cup started with the unpopular logo. It gathered force with the controversy involving FIFA’s choice of a white European southern Brazilian couple to represent a country whose socio-cultural make-up owes so much to its African and indigenous roots. The whole issue of misrepresentation was made even more evident by the hatred of Brazilians for the official song performed by American constructed ‘latinos’ like Jennifer Lopez and Pitbull. Not only does it reinforce a stereotypical Hispanic identity that Brazilians try to distance themselves from (the ‘we do not speak Spanish’ sentence is a constant) but also Brazilian singer, Claudia Leite, who features in the song, is not even acknowledged in international performances.
Humiliation after humiliation has led some Brazilians to hope for disaster. This is important given the country’s fragile self-esteem, marked by its historical designation as ‘underdeveloped’ and ‘third world’, while most recently its ‘country of the future’ title has become heavily problematised. Brazil is a nation that has historically constructed its own image through foreign eyes. International recognition and approval are so important that Brazilians cling desperately to terms such as ‘future’ and ‘emergent’. In fact, international criticism of the country’s readiness to host the event, and the exposure of cracks in its infrastructure already interplay with the sense of inferiority of Brazilian society. Brazilian writer Nelson Rodrigues (who happened to be a football aficionado), addressed the consequences of humiliations experienced by the people throughout generations in a text published in 1968; ‘Brazilians have become a narcissist turned inside out, who spits at his own image’. Here is the truth – we do not find personal or historical justification for our self-esteem.
Considering this problem of self-esteem, football plays a key part in national identity building as it functions as a source of national pride, perhaps one of the only ones Brazil has. The focus on football is so primary, that a look at Brazil’s poor performance at the Olympics is enough to indicate the broader problems regarding investments in infrastructure and facilities in schools and education. But this is considered, of course, a problem for the next two years when Brazil is supposed to host the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The love for football combined with anger at the excessiveness of the World Cup has created a particular setting in the host country, including a combination of denunciatory graffiti on the streets alongside celebratory decoration.
Are we supposed to believe that all the Brazilians posting messages against the World Cup on social networks have not already organised a barbecue or booked a table at a bar days before the game? Absolutely not. This complex attitude towards football also relates to its crucial political role in Brazil. During the World Cup in Mexico 1970, the propagandistic campaign ‘Pra Frente Brasil’ (Ahead Brazil), combined with the winning team were very useful in sugar-coating the then existent dictatorship. There is a Brazilian film distributed in the UK, The Year My Parents Went on Holidays (2006), which is set during this era and relevant to those interested in the links between football and politics.
In October this year, president Dilma Rousseff seeks re-election and inevitably the way Brazilians perceive the World Cup will have a direct impact on the outcome. A famous motto used by protesters is ‘There will be no World Cup’, suggests that there will be a national boycott of the tournament. Regardless of the protesters’ will, the widespread sense of incompetence is so overwhelming that there is indeed a risk that there will be no World Cup, or at least one that meets the so-called FIFA standards. This is mostly due to the lack of investment in infrastructure, which remains a major impediment for the country’s development.
Social networks, TV programmes and websites were not short of jokes about the ‘There will be no World Cup’ versus the ‘There will be a World Cup’. Headlines such as ‘There will be a World Cup but there will not be mobile phones working because the networks are not able to meet demand’ indicate what lies ahead. In the same tragi-comic vein, this text finishes by trailing off. Now let’s wait for the list of missing items, which sadly will include improvement in health and education.
Image from: http://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2014/06/ant-fifa-anti-world-cup-graffiti.html
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