By Nadiyah Fisher
You would expect a documentary based on the FIFA World Cup in Brazil to have clips of Neymar making the game-winning goal and the crowd going wild. All countries have their “signature sport.” This is no different in Brazil. Futebol or soccer is Brazil’s most famous sport (Meyer, 2010). Some even call Brazil “o pais de futebol” or a “soccer country." The presence of soccer in Brazil dates to the 1800s. While the exact origin of the game is unknown, some believe that Charles Miller brought the game to Brazil after returning to Brazil after studying in England, Charles Miller brought back a rulebook and two soccer balls (Trafalgar, 2020). O pais de futebol tem um pai de futebol. Many Brazilian stadiums today hold tribute games for their pai. Soccer is used to unite Brazilians and taught to children at an early age (Trafalgar, 2020). However, in the Vice News documentary Contra A Copa: The Other Side of Brazil’s World Cup shows how Brazil’s beloved sport is causing turmoil.
The first few seconds of the documentary answered my question immediately. Brazilians are protesting in the streets and being attacked by police. In 2007, FIFA chose Brazil to host the next world cup. FIFA is the largest soccer tournament in the world and the Brazil team has won more FIFA World Cup titles than any other country (Trafalgar, 2020). Brazil is the only country to qualify for every FIFA World Cup and has the most goals scored of all time; Miller would be proud. (Trafalgar, 2020). On paper, this seems like an obvious choice. Aside from the great accomplishments that Brazilians achieved in soccer, the world cup attracts people from all over the world. This could help boost Brazil’s economy. My initial thoughts were met with the faces of angry Brazilians in the streets of Rio. This included all Brazilians from different classes. Typically, favelados or Brazilians living in favelas or slums are protesting in the street against law enforcement. Workers move into the favelas due to the proximity of their job to the city. The favelas are run by gangs, not the government. During the world cup, the Pacifying Police Unit or PPU invades the favelas to gain control to prepare for the world cup. Due to the favelas’ proximity to the stadium, the government attempts to clean up the favelas and push the poor out as they scream “não haverá a Copa!”
The world cup being hosted in Brazil is the most expensive one yet. The government is raising prices of bus fares and large governmental spending is not geared toward their citizens, but the gringos, or non-Latinx people. The government spent over 15 billion dollars (about $46 per person in the USD) on security cameras to places around the city. Instead of investing in the lives of their people, the government spends another 50 million dollars on the Command-and-Control Unit. Over 170,000 military personnel stand in the streets on defense. Protesters are shot with rubber bullets and tear gas if they do not comply. This is bigger than soccer. Soccer and politics in Brazil are intertwined. A presidential election always occurs in the same year as a world cup to “boost ratings” and soccer is used as a scapegoat to cover the problems with the government.
While law enforcement believes that their increased involvement in the favelas has nothing to do with the world cup, favelados think otherwise. Brazilian's fear being under military rule again, but history is starting to repeat itself. The Anti-Terror Law is in the discussion. If implemented, protesters can face up to 30 years in prison. Brazil also overturned its Beer Law to accommodate the gringos. Brazil’s beer law prevented merchants from selling beer in their stadiums. Instead of profiting off one of the busiest nights in the city, many merchants are left with their pockets dry. The police destroy their stands and have them sell beer two kilometers or more from the stadium. Brazilians want to escape this nightmare, at least for a night. Instead of enjoying the free clubs like the gringos, locals are taxed and trapped in the war zone of their city.
Like futebol, nothing brings people closer together than a common enemy. Instead of rallying against the opposing team, Brazilians are fighting their government. After being stripped of their privacy, homes, and resources, people have nothing to lose. Greed is being valued over human lives. Why risk the lives of your people for an experience most cannot partake in? This is bigger than soccer.
Meyer, A. (2010). Brazil Sports. https://www.brazil.org.za/brazil-sports.html
Trafalgar. (2020). More than a game – the importance of football to Brazilian culture. The Real Word. https://www.trafalgar.com/real-word/football-brazilian-culture/
Vice News. Contra A Copa: The Other Side of Brazil's World Cup. (2014). https://www.vice.com/en/article/mbn874/contra-a-copa-the-other-side-of-brazils-world-cup-full-length