Despite the World Cup having been, by national and international consensus, a great success, not everyone is satisfied. And I’m not just talking here about the poor Brazilian fan (it could have been worse for you: try being an English fan), but about the large, medium-sized and especially some of the smaller retail businesses. They didn’t get the sales they wanted, the tourists didn’t spend as expected, and on match days, especially when the Brazilian team was playing, the shops stayed empty. Why was that? Instinctively many people have blamed the social movements and, especially, the ‘Não vai ter copa’ (‘There’s not going to be a World Cup’) movement.
By the way, it’s worth remembering that there is no consensus about the economic benefits that these mega-events contribute at national level. It is said that while the 1992 Olympics were a good business for Barcelona, the 2004 games had serious consequences for Greece, that South Africa made no profit from the 2010 World Cup and that even Germany, a country which already had a good supply of stadiums and sophisticated infrastructure, made no commercial gain from the 2006 Cup. In which case it was pretty unrealistic to hope that Brazil would make any substantial profit from this Cup, especially considering the money that had to be spent to get the Cup to happen here.
Also, not all the traders complained. Some, like bar-owners turned a good profit (according to them, their takings went up 80% on days when the Brazilian team was playing).
O.k., now we get to the ‘Não vai ter Copa’ folk. According to Folha de S.Paulo, this movement ‘contaminated’ the country, creating a negative atmosphere which led many people to hold back from making the necessary investment and preparations. I think it’s obvious that some trades (bars, taxis, hotels, street traders) naturally benefited from the Cup, while many others, unfortunately had a slacker month. But perhaps Folha was right about one thing: many people told me that the atmosphere before this Cup was nothing like that before previous ones. So are the social movements really to blame? —the ‘Não vai ter Copa’ or perhaps the Black Blocks we read so much about in the papers and magazines?
Or could it be that the negative climate arose from the fact that Brazil was in serious danger of failing to complete the various stadiums before the opening ceremony? Or that barely 41% of the total construction projects planned for the Cup were ready on time? Or that eight workers were killed during the construction and remodelling of the stadiums (not to mention the two people crushed by the viaduct which collapsed in Belo Horizonte on July 3)? Or the inflated billing for work, or the more or less public showdowns between FIFA and the Federal Government? Would these not be more powerful reasons than a few relatively sparsely attended demonstrations?
It seems that some people took all too literally the name of the movement ‘Não vai ter Copa’. No-one, not even the most militant activists seriously believed that the Cup would not take place. The slogan ‘Não vai ter Copa’ was always a calculated exaggeration, a symbolic declaration, a trick to call attention to the movement and its criticisms of the World Cup and the way in which this was being organised. In other words, the protests and strikes that we saw in the weeks before the Cup were not so much the causes as symptoms of the problem. The causes are precisely those that were identified and criticised by the demonstrators —and they were right.
I’m talking about the forced relocation of favela-dwellers on the outskirts of the big cities; the ‘Lei Geral da Copa’ (General Cup Law) and the ‘exclusion-zones’ reserved for FIFA near the stadiums. Of the ‘Budweiser Bill’ and the fact that FIFA is not going to pay a single penny of tax on the profits it made from the event. I’m referring to the increasing criminalisation of protest and the use of arbitrary detention, kettling and fire arms to contain demonstrators. And above all, of course, to the billions spent on a sporting event in a country where so many people lack basic health care, education, housing and urban transport.
In this new attack on the social movements, we see on display once more the authoritarian instincts of the Brazilian mass media, and an attempt to legitimise violence used by the state to deal with demonstrations (consider, for example, the brilliant suggestion of Ronaldo to ‘club the vandals’). It was logical to suppose that the Cup would in general be a success, given the money invested in it and the great passion of Brazilians for football. So it’s hardly surprising that those people who were protesting against the event in the weeks before its opening are now being attacked. However, we can enjoy the spectacle, while at the same time engaging with it in a critical manner. Our love for football should not blind us to the corruption, injustice and violence which accompanied this World Cup from the start.