A Cup for Whom?

A Brazilian native plays football during a protest in front of the National Congress as part of Indigenous Mobilization Week,
A Brazilian native plays football during a protest in front of the National Congress as part of Indigenous Mobilization Week, in Brasilia on May 28, 2014. The demonstration aims to attract the attention on the Amazonian situation in the framework of upcoming FIFA World Cup Brazil 2014. AFP PHOTO/Evaristo SA . AFP PHOTO / Evaristo Sa (Photo credit should read EVARISTO SA/AFP/Getty Images)

Many people have been and still are dumbfounded by the dissatisfaction of a large part of the Brazilian people with the 2014 World Cup: how come the country of soccer, where almost anyone carries a story of passion for this sport, is protesting against its major event? Between the devotion for the ball and the general discontentment, what has been lost?

The surprise and the presumed contradiction became even clearer when, in July 2013, during the Confederations Cup, about one million people took part in manifestations during the games, and the eyes and hearts of a large number of people were with the activists, and not with the national teams. Several opinion polls, since the beginning of the 2013 massive protests until the eve of the 2014 World Cup, reveal that few people agree about the mega event -- according to a Datafolha study in May, 66 percent declared that the Cup will cause more loss than benefit.

Three years ago, when asked "A Cup for whom?" few people had a clear answer; today almost no one objects that this tournament already has its great champions.

The 110 billion reals increase in the national economy brought about by the Cup will go to the hands of just a few. Fifa, a non-profit association that gains U.S. $100 million a year, has announced that it will have the biggest profit in its history -- 10 billion reals. Its commercial partners, such as Coca Cola, Adidas and McDonalds, will have the monopoly of sales in arenas, festivals and their surroundings, besides exclusiveness in the 2014 Cup products. A few Brazilian businessmen and companies, mainly the big contractors (Andrade Gutierrez, Odebrecht, OAS and Camargo Correia) and other national sponsors of the event, will also benefit of high profit rates.

The Cup's promised social legacy will not bring benefits to the population as a whole -- less than 20 percent of the urban mobility works, which would bring improvements to buses, trains, subways and airports, were concluded, and one third of those were cancelled. Those that were concluded, still, are mostly works of airport expansion. That is: almost nothing new will stay as a legacy to public transportation. #ThereWillBeViolation

Despite the big lie of a "Private Cup" announced since 2007, according to which the stadiums would be paid by private capital, has been exposed, with less then 1 percent of the Cup's costs coming from businessmen pockets, the costs of the mega event to the public chests are not the Cup's most wicked dimension to Brazil. The most urgent question we must face is the human rights violation, the social cost of the Cup. And in this aspect, unfortunately, it has already started, and we are losing badly.

Ten workers have died just in the arenas' construction; 170,000 to 250,000 people were removed from their homes with no right to compensation -- besides the thousands expelled by real-estate speculation; there has been growing sexual exploitation reports, including of children and teenagers, and of human traffic; the homeless population is being violently expelled from urban centers; scores of protesters were hurt by law enforcement agents, many others suffer political persecution; and small retailers, street artists and thousands of street peddlers (138,000 just in São Paulo), besides recyclable material catchers, are prohibited to work in the exclusion zones -- a radius of 2 kilometers (protected by military blockade) of exclusiveness for Fifa around stadiums and Fan Fests, where only people with tickets can circulate.

Authorities and businessmen have searched precisely in the Brazilians' passion for soccer the legitimacy to do their business and to justify violations. But not even soccer has survived to the Cup of Cups: bleachers have disappeared and gave way to the Fifa-standard "arenas"; tickets prices have rocketed, some of them arriving at 2,000 reals (around three times the minimum wage). In the new "stadiums of exception," soccer is just for a few.

Violations have been going on with the repressive apparatus expansion: 2 billion reals were spent in public security, being 54 million just in guns' purchase. Police officers were trained by military groups from Israel and France. New battalions and control centers were created in the cities. Exception courts around stadiums, with expanded punishment and without a right to ample defense, a basic principle in any democracy, will be installed. New legislation allow to frame social movements as terrorists. The "preventive" detention of protesters has been announced for the tournament period. And all of that in a country known around the world as supposedly inhabited by a hospitable people. To whom are directed all of those measures?

The poor, black and peripheral people who lead the grim statistics of murders committed by the police in outer neighborhoods offer a clear and historic answer to that question.

Soccer for whom?

Brazil became globally known as the great soccer country, and its people as the sport's main lovers. Scholars such as anthropologist Roberto da Matta have pointed to the central place soccer occupies in the Brazilian identity, and the importance of the stadium as a social space of creation and popular celebration, fulfilling a role between the carnival spectacle and erudition. Several cultural, social and political manifestations in Brazil were born and built in stadiums among fans. One must just remember that during the military regime, the first public banners for amnesty were raised at the bleachers.

But from the 1990's on much has changed in the Brazilian soccer scene, which has only followed a global trend. We have seen the fast development of new commercial strategies linked to the sport, with a progressively growing influence of large television corporations on the games and a growing process of militarization of stadiums, which became less and less accessible to popular classes -- traditional occupants of the benches.

That has been conspicuous in the appearance of pop-star players, true products of marketing and of the big media; in the shift of the public stadiums, with a constant increase in tickets prices; the opening of clubs to the sponsoring of big companies, and even to the financial capital; and the creation of a repressive and legal apparatus around the fans, increasingly censoring their practices under a discourse of restraining violence -- something like the process unleashed by Margaret Thatcher in Britain after the Hillsborough tragedy.

All of that was already in course, but the World Cup has accelerated, in great measure, that process in Brazil: with the help of Fifa, soccer became a show, the stadium a shopping center and the fans, mere consumers. The multiple feelings and passions were emptied and popular participation itself was put under doubt.

The stadiums in the 12 cities that will host the 2014 Cup were built or remodeled according to Fifa's demands; street workers lost their sales spaces, big companies gained the local trade monopoly, stands were replaced by seats, and patrons and workers started being checked by a complex private security system -- called "big brother." Each step within the arenas will be watched and a series of traditional behaviors in stadiums will no longer be allowed.

Signalers, batteries, flags, fireworks, cut paper -- none of those will be permitted. One cannot bring food and drinks, and there will be no more hot dog stands or any stands close to stadiums, only within them, and for exorbitant prices. Clothes or banners showing political statements or referring to commercial identifications which are not those of the event's sponsors will not be allowed, among other Fifa provisions.

The Complexo Maracanã SA, a company that became the owner of the traditional Rio stadium, decided to extend the rules to their employees, with the requirements of a clean shave, the use of deodorant and not having visible tattoos. The company also explains that its target audience are individuals who own summer houses, horses, boats, drive imported cars and drink fine whiskies.

Is the Brazilians' lack of excitement with the Cup of Cups still stunning?

As Juan Arias said: "It is as if Brazil were saying that the way things go in that field, the Cup had no interest, either playing it or winning it. That the passion for the sport is being changed for a capitalist operation whose maximum expression are Fifa's swindles, which are killing real soccer." Likewise, more than half of high school students in a public school have told us that they "will not cheer for Brazil".

But among the streams of money and violations by Fifa, CBF, companies and governments, the popular passion endures: in the bare feet, in streets, squares, parks and riverside fields. That is what we have seen during two editions of the Rebel Cup, an event organized by the Popular Committee of Copa SP and partner movements in a self-managed and horizontal way.

In the joust, men, women and children have met Indians, immigrants and Palestinian visitors, activists linked to the struggle for popular housing and for the women's rights, collectives that want the decriminalization of drugs and freedom to live, movements that demand "free land" in cities and fields, and also the "free pass" in public transport, homeless people and several others, threatened by removal, repressed, segregated and made invisible. An infinite number of flags, many of which remain up around the fields, converge in the struggle for the right to the city and against the Fifa Cup.

The Rebel Cup experience showed that another World Cup, popular and organized from the bottom up, is possible. And this is the message we want to send to the whole world.