Protests in Brazil Probably Won't Stop the World Cup

PHOTO: In a protest staged in the city of Fortaleza, On June 19, 2013, a man held a poster which said, we don´t need a World Cup.

Vanderlei Almeida/AFP/Getty Images

Day by day, the situation in Brazil seems to be rapidly deteriorating.

On Monday, nearly 200,000 Brazilians took to the streets of Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, and Brasilia to protest rises in public transportation prices, corruption, police brutality, and government spending on events such as the World Cup and the Confederations Cup. The event marked the biggest protests the country has seen in more than two decades, and it prompted conciliatory remarks from the Brazilian government.

"The direct message from the streets is for more citizenship, better schools, better hospitals, better health, for direct participation," President Dilma Roussef said during a televised address. "My government is trying and committed to social transformation."

Most protesters disagree with the president's message, and they cite the amount of money spent on the World Cup Stadiums ($3.68 billion; almost three times the projected costs) as a clear example of misplaced priorities. Groups such as V de Vinagre and #ChangeBrazil have made that clear through social media, where they are now urging foreigners not to come to the World Cup.

Some demonstrators are even hoping that the current strife will lead to the cancellation of next year's event.

"This will have a direct impact on our cost of living," a protester in Fortaleza, the site of Wednesday's Brazil-Mexico match, told the BBC. "All this makes me want to mobilize and, why not, do something that leads to the cancellation of the event."

Though a cancellation is highly unlikely, there is somewhat of a precedent for such a debacle.

In 1974, FIFA accepted Colombia's bid to host the 1986 World Cup. Eight years later, in 1982, the Colombian government withdrew from hosting the World Cup. Mexico eventually became the host, and, Colombia lost the chance to witness one of soccer's greatest events.

Now, given Brazil's worsening economic, social, and political situation, could Roussef's government be forced to cancel the event like Colombia did more than thirty years ago?

The answer is a resounding no, according to analysts.

"Brazil may not be in a comfortable economic position, but they are already too committed. Most of the public works are near completion," said Miguel Urrutia, a renowned Colombian economics professor, who served as Minister of Mines and Energy in 1977.

Colombia, meanwhile, never quite actually started refurbishing the stadiums and doing all the work that FIFA asked. For years after the country won the right to host the World Cup, politicians and businessmen debated whether it made sense to spend millions of dollars on a twenty-day event with unknown financial dividends.

By 1980, FIFA sent a commission that traveled throughout the country's stadiums and imposed a set of nearly unfulfillable conditions, which included massive stadium and infrastructure renovations. The government then tried to pass a law through Congress to collect the necessary funds, but the motion failed in the last debate. In response, some of Colombia's richest men established a private organization to help collect the necessary resources.

In 1982, with a newly elected president who had promised to support the endeavor during his campaign, the group of Colombian entrepreneurs sent 33 tons of promotional material to be distributed during the World Cup in Spain. As the Italians raised the trophy and the competition reached its end, however, it was clear that FIFA, led by Brazilian Joao Havelange, no longer viewed the country as a viable option. That November, Colombian President Belisario Betancur announced that Colombia would not host event. The fact that Gabriel García Márquez had just won the Nobel Prize in Literature helped to soften the blow.

"At that time, the Colombian government was experiencing a tough fiscal situation and a delicate monetary one, and they realized it wasn't the right time to commit to the investments that the World Cup required," Urrutia said.

The situation with Brazil is fairly different. When the country submitted their candidacy to host the competition in December 2006, they were in a very good economic position. The country's GDP grew by 4 percent that year, and by 6.1 in 2007, according to the World Bank. Everyone was talking about Latin America's waking giant, one of the eight largest economies in the globe, and how the government of Lula Da Silva had managed to promote economic growth while aggressively fighting poverty and inequality.

Today, as the world watches the protests at the Confederations Cup, Brazil's economic forecasts are disappointing. Growth expectations have been lowered by most agencies, and inflation, now at 6.5 percent, has become a new source of anxiety.

The economic downturn partly explains the scope of the demonstrations, which have now garnered the support of figures that one would have expected to be in favor of the World Cup.

"So much violence," Brazilian soccer and former Barcelona star Rivaldo tweeted. "We don't have the conditions to host a World Cup, we do not need that, we need education and health."

Similar complaints have come from other Brazilian soccer icons like Romario and Neymar, offering protesters even more reasons to defy authorities.

The Brazilian government has said that it will send national security forces to five cities to stop the demonstrations. The U.N., meanwhile, has called on Brazil to guarantee the right to protest and assemble peacefully, and for an investigation of reported police brutality.

FIFA, as usual, has conceitedly responded to the situation. "They shouldn't use soccer for their demands," Joseph Blatter, FIFA's president, told Brazilian newspaper O Globo. "Brazil asked for the World Cup. We didn't impose it on them."

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