Quick thoughts on the end of the World Cup

The scene at the World Cup final today could serve as a slightly absurd metaphor for the tournament as a whole. The crowd at Maracanã stadium, the site of Brazil’s infamous 1950 defeat to Uruguay, shouted crude insults at the Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. Dilma, grimacing, handed the trophy to the victorious German team “like a hot potato.” The song “Happy” by American musician Pharrell Williams played over the loudspeakers while the losing Argentine squad sulked in defeat.

Germans were partying hard. Their team had humiliated Brazil in the semi-final and managed to pull off the feat of becoming the first European team to win a World Cup hosted in South America. In a way, it was symbolic. The victor; Germany – the state most responsible for the pains that post-global financial crisis “austerity” brought to its European neighbors. The loser; Argentina – a country that has been demonized and attacked by Wall Street “vulture funds.” Brazil was left with a big, fat nothing.

The popular slogan “não vai ter Copa!” (“there will be no Cup”) became the quasi-official mantra of demonstrators who took to the streets to protest the waste and corruption FIFA and the World Cup came to represent for many Brazilians. Of course, almost nothing could have stopped the multi-billion dollar event from going forward. “Gringo” tourists and wealthy Brazilians were always going to get their Cup, and quite an exciting and well-managed one at that.

But “não vai ter Copa” was not meant literally (although it turned to be true in that sense as well). For the anti-Cup protesters, it meant that they knew the Cup was not meant for them. Many middle-income Brazilians chose to avoid the high prices and large crowds of tourists at the live matches, watching instead from their homes and local hangouts. The working classes were not even allowed sell beer near the stadiums. That privilege was reserved for FIFA sponsors like the Budweiser corporation.

While FIFA chief Sepp Blatter gleefully pointed to the lack of widespread protests during the Cup, he neglected to mention that state violence and repression played a major role in deterring dissent. As author Dave Zirin recently wrote, the international media largely ignored the story of “a population angry about the Cup, but terrorized into compliance.” In fact, there were various reports of police harassing and beating demonstrators and even journalists during anti-Cup protests on the day of the final match.

“FIFA go home” was another popular mantra of the anti-Cup crowd. The organization will go home, albeit with about $4.5 billion in untaxed profits. Economic growth forecasts for Brazil have fallen from a meager 1.7 percent earlier in the year to less than 1 percent recently. Some economists estimate that the World Cup and the Olympic Games planned for 2016 in Rio de Janeiro will only boost growth by about 0.2 percent in 2014.

The impoverished favelas will be left under militarized occupation – whether by security forces, drug gangs, or both – often without basic facilities like water and sewage. Giant “FIFA-quality” stadiums, like Manaus’s “spaceship in the jungle,” will host games played in front of half-filled stands. If this is the legacy of the World Cup in Brazil, one cannot help but wonder what the Olympics will bring. More over-budget, past-schedule projects? More workers’ deaths? More strikes and protests? More arrests and police brutality?

The answer is likely to be “all of the above.” The world may have stopped watching the Cup, but it should not stop watching Brazil.

Translation: Boos at Dilma, fights in the Maracanã and police brutality outside. It was a beautiful Cup but let’s not ignore problems. 

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