The eyes of billions of people all over the world will be watching Brazil in the next weeks during the World Cup. The most popular game in the world, soccer is a source of joy and excitement, more than any other sporting event.
But there is another story taking place behind the scenes, the real story of the suffering and struggle of working people. This is a story, which – like the games themselves – people all over the world can identify with because the rich of Brazil are using the games to make billions of dollars while ordinary people suffer from their greed. But as we shall see in the coming weeks, people won’t suffer in silence.
What is at stake in Brazil? The ruling party is known as the Worker’s Party. While the Worker’s Party pretends to be a party that supports workers, in the last decades since it has governed Brazil, there have been huge cuts to social spending, and workers suffer wage cuts and massive unemployment. This same so-called Workers’ Party has spent billions of dollars on hosting the World Cup. FIFA, the world soccer association, demanded huge investments in return for allowing Brazil to host the games. Estimates of the cost of the games themselves are around $15 billion, including the construction of twelve new stadiums, the largest one costing almost one billion dollars.
The Brazilian state has used the games to increase repression on the poor and working people. The government has passed so-called anti-terror legislation, forming riot squads and militarized police forces, an army of over 170,000 people. These police have already been used to clear out over 200,000 residents of Brazil’s favelas, the poor communities of the big cities. The wealthy in Brazil have wanted this real estate for decades, and now the World Cup has become the pretext for bulldozing homes and seizing land.
The stadium for the World Cup is not only a waste of money and resources, it is a major blow to the environment. The stadium is constructed deep in the Amazon rainforest, the “lungs of the world,” which produce 20 percent of the oxygen for the atmosphere. The construction of the unnecessary stadiums means massive destruction for the sake of a couple of soccer games. The Brazilian government even suggested it might use the stadium as a massive prison afterwards. No wonder the construction is making people angry!
All of the attacks that have accompanied the World Cup have not gone unanswered. It’s not that Brazilians are opposed to soccer, but they are opposed to the waste and exploitation that the World Cup is being used to cover for. Last year, Brazil saw the largest protest in a generation with a million people taking to the streets under the slogan “we want FIFA quality hospitals and schools.” Only 22 percent of Brazilians plan to root for Brazil’s team in the coming games!
In the last few weeks we have already seen resistance beginning with bus drivers. The official bus drivers union is linked to the ruling government party but the bus drivers themselves have gone on strike, paralyzing transportation in Sao Paulo. In addition, 10,000 people occupied a square near a stadium, calling themselves the “People’s Cup,” protesting the government’s priorities. Anger is boiling under the surface of Brazilian society.
As the World Cup begins, the eyes of the world will be focused on Brazil and the struggle between the soccer teams but the struggle of the poor and working people in Brazil will go on in the streets. This is a struggle against the agenda of the wealthy and their government that any worker in any country can identify with because it is the same struggle in every country in the world. Soccer fans may root for different teams depending on who they like, but we should all see which team is ours in the streets of Sao Paolo – not the wealthy or their government or their police, but the workers and the poor struggling to get what they need.