EspañolBrazil is crazy about soccer — and with good reason. Their top players are the most skilled and traded for millions in European soccer clubs. Brazil’s national team has the most World Cup victories (five) of any country in the world, and has never failed to qualify for the competition since the inaugural tournament in 1930.
From beach sands to downtown parks and rural fields, just about anywhere in Brazil is a suitable place for a “pelada,” an improvised soccer game among friends and strangers alike. Everyone plays it. So much that Brazil is dubbed “the country of soccer,” and the sport can rightfully be considered an essential part of its national identity.
That’s why it’s both surprising and moving to witness so many Brazilians come out against their country hosting the event, which would have otherwise been a great source of national pride. What could have been decried as sacrilege two years ago, boycotting the World Cup, and even the Brazilian team, is becoming commonplace. In Sao Paulo alone, the country’s largest city, nine different protests took place in a single day. A new survey by the Pew Research Center reveals that 60 percent of the country believes the World Cup is bad for Brazil.
Since FIFA chose Brazil to host the international competition in 2007, the government has publicized it as a magic solution to the country’s problems. But two weeks before kick-off, it’s very clear that it has brought Brazilians a myriad of unintended consequences: million-dollar stadiums in the countryside will largely become “white elephants” after a month’s use, as with South Africa’s sport complexes in 2010; widespread strikes, corruption scandals, the funneling of funds away from needed areas, families evicted and their homes bulldozed, and the paramilitary cleansing of the homeless in host cities. Even the expected economic return from all the investment is in jeopardy due to frequent urban shutdowns, accidents, and billions in government loans for misguided infrastructure projects.
Of course, Brazilians won’t stop loving soccer in July. Let’s just hope they correctly identify the source of this sport-related disaster: the state’s large-scale social engineering, propped up by populist sentiments.