Millennium Post

The Game starts tonight, but has Brazil lost its play?

The Game starts tonight, but has Brazil lost its play?
With less than a day left before the World Cup kicks off, Brazil’s political establishment is probably hoping that the same sentiment permeates through its populace. However strikes, demonstrations, delays in stadium constructions and other infrastructure projects, allied with police violence, has marred what should have been the spiritual homecoming of the world’s greatest sporting event.

The latest protest to hit the headlines in Brazil has been the strike by subway workers in the country’s largest metropolis, Sao Paulo, who have demanded higher wages. The general public has also weighed into the protests, forcing local police to disperse crowds. About half the city’s subway stations were operating, although under diminished capabilities to cater to its 4.5 million daily commuters. It is also the main transport link to Corinthian Arena, which will host the opening ceremony and match. For the time being, workers have suspended their strike till the games begin. Scenes of protests, street fires and tear gas have become common place. Authorities will approximately station 57,000 troops and 100,000 policemen to protect training facilities, stadium perimeters and team hotels.

These demonstrations form a microcosm of the larger disenchantment prevalent in a country reeling under serious inflation, cuts in social spending and slow growth (expected figure for 2014: 1.6 per cent). Gross iniquities have marred a country, where preparations for the tournament have seen the forcible eviction of 30,000 families in Rio De Janerio. Allied with expenditure of over $11 billion for the tournament, President Dilma Rousseff’s administration is under intense global scrutiny. ‘Today, there is a systematic campaign against the World Cup – or rather, it is not against the World Cup but rather a systematic campaign against us’, an embattled Dilma said at a recent speech in Porto Alegre, one of the cities hosting the tournament.

According to some estimates, the Brazilian government has had to forgo taxes worth approximately $250 million to FIFA, along with the fact that the game’s governing body takes home all the commercial revenue. FIFA has, however, refuted these claims on their website in a document titled, ‘Setting the record straight’. ‘FIFA has covered the entire operational costs of the World Cup to the tune of around $2 billion USD’, they’ve said. The body further added that they never forced the Brazilian government to build 12 expensive stadiums, for which the government has received a lot of flak. However, Rousseff counters these claims.

Laws have been changed to suit FIFA and its sponsors. In 2003, the Brazilian government passed a law banning all alcohol in stadiums to restore public safety on their grounds. In December, 2012, the country’s senate passed the comically named, ‘Budweiser Bill’, that allowed stadiums to sell beer. The irony of a former left-wing urban guerilla overseeing a tournament, emblematic of corporate strength, has not been lost on the media. However, there is hope for not just her administration, but for the general populace as well. Speaking to the world media, union president for those subway workers in Sao Paulo, Altino Melo dos Prazeres, said, ‘I’m a fan of [star Brazil striker] Neymar and I will root for the [World] Cup. Nobody here wants to mess up the Cup. But we see that there’s money for the tournament but not for the workers.’ Something will probably have to give.

FIFA is also under the spotlight for other untoward reasons. Reports of bribery and corruption in Qatar’s successful bid for 2022 World Cup have tarnished its already poor reputation. According to British media, documents have emerged against former FIFA executive committee member and former Asian Football Confederation president Mohamed bin Hammam, alleging payments to African officials in the run up to the vote in 2010, amidst all the other corruption scandals its has been involved in. FIFA president Sepp Blatter remains nonplussed about these allegations, accusing the British media of ‘racism’. The sport’s reputation is at stake. It is a clear reminder to all those involved in the game, as to how far we need to go to restore football’s moniker as the ‘people’s game’. The faint hope is that lessons will be learnt. Till then, tighten your seat belts and enjoy the ride because despite the circumstances, I can’t wait for the football to begin.
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