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SBD Global/June 19, 2013/International Football

Brazil's World Cup Fever Soured By Massive Protests At Confederations Cup

Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators have been protesting the high cost of the World Cup in Brazil.
Brazilians "are realistic about the World Cup and what will transpire on and off the pitch," according to Roger Blitz of the FINANCIAL TIMES. At a ceremony to mark the one-year countdown to the World Cup last week -- staged, inevitably, "on Copacabana beach under a blazing sun --  that the revered Pelé punctured the celebratory mood by imploring disaffected supporters not to boo the national team." There "is a growing realism, too, about the wider benefits of hosting the event, even in Rio, which plays host to the 2016 Olympics." Ministers rely on forecasts from Ernst & Young that indicate the World Cup and the Olympics together "will generate" 3.6 million jobs and contribute 0.4% of GDP a year until '19. But Brazil’s "struggling economy and rising inflation are souring the party atmosphere and starting to impact on President Dilma Rousseff’s popularity." Riots in several cities over bus fare increases, including Rio, "is fuelling debate about Brazil’s enormous wealth gap." FIFA and the World Cup "is caught up in this, as the cost and availability of tickets for the tournament come into view" (FT, 6/18).

CONFED CUP PROTESTS: In London, James Hider reported violent protests "are spreading across Brazil in anger at rising prices and the cost of hosting the World Cup" outside of venues hosting the Confederations Cup, the first of the countries "set-piece sports extravaganzas." The Jornal do Brasil’s headline proclaimed “Fiesta inside ... war outside,” while demonstrators held posters that read “We don’t need the World Cup” and “We need money for hospitals and education.”  The prospect of social unrest eclipsing the country’s footballing events "has jangled nerves in Brazil" (LONDON TIMES, 6/18). BLOOMBERG's Tariq Panja reported FIFA President Sepp Blatter said that demonstrators "are exploiting the sport by staging protests at the Confederations Cup." Blatter: "Football is there to bring people together. This is clear and I know a little bit about the protests that are here." Blatter added, "people are using the platform of football and the international media presence to make certain demonstrations. You will see today is the third day of the competition this will calm down. It will be a wonderful competition" (BLOOMBERG, 6/17).

CAUGHT OFF GUARD: In London, Joe Leahy reported the spontaneity and intensity of the protests "have caught politicians of all hues by surprise." They "represent the most serious political challenge" for Rousseff in her two-and-a-half years in office. What started as small student demonstrations in São Paulo a few weeks ago against an increase in bus and metro fares "has mushroomed into a national expression of discontent with the country’s political classes." Maria Eduarda Carvalho, a social scientist marching in São Paulo with her husband and daughters, said, "I think Brazil has to wake up, our complaints are much more than [bus] tickets, it’s the stagnant economy, it’s corruption, it’s lack of public security, a lack of civic rights" (FT, 6/18).

'FAIRER' BRAZIL: In London, Gabriele Marcotti commented on The Game blog that it is "a bit hard to write about football when there are more than 100,000 protesters up the street from where you had dinner." The demonstrations broke out all over Brazil Monday night. On Saturday, in Brasilia, "I watched several thousand protesters who, truth be told, seemed good-natured, at least at first." Half an hour later, "I could smell the tear gas." Tear gas "was also used on Sunday at the Maracana, in Rio." Despite that, FIFA "is probably right in insisting that all this has nothing to do with the Confederations Cup or next summer’s World Cup finals." They are just "convenient backdrops that make for a bigger echo chamber." There are some who, no doubt, "question the economics of hosting a World Cup when the money could be spent on something else." But "the one thing that seems to unify all protesters is that they want a 'fairer' Brazil" (LONDON TIMES, 6/18).

PEOPLE'S CUP: Also in London, Jonathan Watts opined on the Global Development blog that "it's only a few kilometres away from the Maracanã stadium, but in symbolism, the People's Cup could not be much further removed from the mega sporting events now being staged in Rio de Janeiro and other Brazilian cities." The People's Cup "brings together teams from communities that are threatened with relocation by the sporting, transport and housing developments that are now under way in preparation for the upcoming sporting events." Comite Popular Copa e Olimpíados organizer Mario Capagnani said, "This is football as a form of protest. We want to remind people that the authorities are using the World Cup and the Olympics to make illegal changes to the city" (GUARDIAN, 6/18).
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