The opening game of the World Cup will take place in Sao Paulo between the host country, Brazil, and the Baltic nation of Croatia. The beautiful game, to use Pele’s description of soccer, is being played in the political arena of a burgeoning protest movement in Brazil. The protesters are not taking a holiday as the visitors from all parts of the world descend on Brazil to enjoy the spectacle of the World Cup.
Brazil sought both the World Cup of 2014 and the Summer Olympic Games of 2016. The government did not anticipate the domestic turmoil. Brazil has made much progress in recent decades in expanding the middle class and made some efforts in reducing extreme poverty. But the income inequality chasm, though narrowed, is still gaping and fuels the discontent in the favelas and with the unions.
In Rio de Janeiro where the final of the World Cup will be played, there are approximately 1,000 favelas, Rochina, the largest of the favelas, encompasses over 100,000 residents.
The government since 2008 has embarked on a pacification movement and in Rio de Janeiro, there is police presence in over 300 favelas. But the inappropriate use of force by the police has made the pacification exercise unnecessarily tempestuous. The drug dealers in the favelas also see the pacification movement as being threatening to the drug trade and have engaged in a virtual civil war with the police.
The Brazilian government may have to use the military to ensure that the social disorder does not disrupt the World Cup or thwart visitors from enjoying the rich culture of Brazilian society.
The Brazilian team is playing at home and is one of the favorite teams to win the World Cup. Brazil is on the world stage and the world is not only scrutinizing the national team but also the larger Brazilian society.
Words By Bagga Wilks