Loved Brazil’s 2014 World Cup? The Five-Time-Champion Nation Wasn’t So Thrilled


Germany, 2014 World Cup Brazil champions, after the final at the Estádio Maracanã. Photo by himanisdas on Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

When Brazil hosted the World Cup in June 2014, it witnessed not only the planet's most popular sporting event, but also a surge of social unrest. Considering both the monumental spending and the national team's heartbreaking performance, Brazilians had ample cause to be disturbed. 

The world's mainstream media often focused on the celebratory mood in Brazil during the games, but this was only part of the story. Despite the country's deep cultural affinity for football, hosting the World Cup was actually a controversial project in Brazil that may viewed as socially irresponsible. The main concerns were about government spending. Organizing the tournament was very expensive, of course, and the money spent on preparations drained resources meant for Brazil's many other pressing issues. Thanks to the World Cup, Brazil has witnessed a rise in protests, strikes, and unemployment.

In June 2014, bloggers at The Hill addressed Brazil's “World Cup ennui,” explaining the nation's generally sour mood as a response to government mismanagement:

The cost of new stadiums and the accompanying infrastructure have certainly created jobs, but they have also redirected scarce funds away from such basic needs as education, healthcare and better transit. The $11 billion being spent to prepare for the games is not registering with citizens. More than half of people polled in April said that the games would bring more harm than good. And the Rousseff government's campaign promises of a new social contract have faded almost as quickly as the ebullience of having won the rights to host the Cup itself.

Writing in the newspaper El Pais, Antonio Jiménez Barca argues that demonstrations cast a shadow on Brazil's World Cup, demonstrating a lack of public support for the tournament. The country has more important problems, he says.

Yo no estoy en contra de la Copa, señor. Pero sí en contra del dinero que se ha empleado en la Copa y que se podrá haber gastado en otras cosas, como salud, educación y transportes.

I am not against the World Cup, sir, but I am against the money that has been used for the World Cup, which could have been spent on other things, like health, education, and transportation.

Brazil spent a spectacular sum of money indeed. An Argentinian magazine recently concluded that Brazil's World Cup organizing committee invested roughly $12 billion USD in preparations—the largest sum in the tournament's history.

Nunca antes se erogaron tantos billetes para las canchas que albergarán los encuentros de la Copa. [..] Brasil será el eje del mundo durante 30 días. La Copa está en marcha y las sensaciones cambiarán, quizá con los resultados.

Never before have so many tickets been distributed for pitches that will host World Cup matches. Brazil will be the world's axis for 30 days. The World Cup is underway and feelings will change, maybe with the results.

The size and intensity of protests grew as the World Cup progressed, with the most significant rallies occuring in big cities like Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, and Recife. According to El Pais newspaper, mass demonstrations swept Brazil early during the games, despite the government's decision to cancel an unpopular hike in public transportation costs.

A diferencia del lunes (17 de junio de 2013), cuando en todas las protestas se escuchó un reclamo preciso y concreto en boca de la mayoría, esta vez no surgió ningún elemento unificador, ningún cántico que primara sobre todos los demás. La corrupción, el exceso de gastos en el Mundial de 2014, la educación, la salud… Todas esas cuestiones se reflejaban en las cartulinas de los manifestantes. Pero ninguna reinó sobre la otra.

Unlike Monday (June 17, 2013), when protesters voiced specific complaints in relative unison, no unifying element stood out in this new demonstration. Corruption, education, health, overspending on the World Cup—protesters carried banners addressing it all. No single issue took precedence.

While the social situation calmed some after the beginning of the World Cup, the distraction ended with Brazil's humiliating elimination by Germany on July 8. Twitter users used the hashtag #BrasilEliminado (#BrazilOut) to weigh in on the defeat. A day after the loss, Brazilian Twitter user Márcio Pinto Santos reported a riot in São Paulo, facetiously welcoming more social unrest:

Let the protests begin… #BrazilOut [Hyperlink to a news article about the São Paulo riot.]

In Venezuela, Twitter users had the same idea:

Now for the riots in Brazil to begin. #BrazilOut

Indeed, black humor was not an uncommon reaction online to Brazil's crushing defeat:

They said [Brazil's] Cup [victory] was bought and paid for, but I think [Brazilian President] Dilma [Rousseff]'s check was no good. #BrazilOut

Writing in his blog on July 11, Peruvian journalist Pedro Canelo asked, “What's a day with Brazil out of the World Cup like?” Answering his own question, Canelo said Rio de Janeiro deflated overnight, losing its carnivalesque atmosphere to a sense of wounded pride. Canelo witnessed no violence in the streets, but he certainly detected the potential for such unrest hiding just beneath the surface:

No hay desmanes, tampoco protestas, solo tristeza y nostalgia en Brasil. Hay que cuidarse igual, caminar seguro por las calles iluminadas y con resguardo, y tampoco salir innecesariamente por la noche. Un dolido hincha brasileño con tragos encima puede reaccionar mal ante la mínima preocupación. Nos despide triste el país más alegre del mundo.

There is no outrage or protests in Brazil—just sadness and nostalgia. Even so, one must be careful. Keep to the streets with lighting and shelter, and don't go out unnecessarily at night. After a few drinks, an upset Brazil supporter might take the smallest matter the wrong way. We bid a sad farewell to the most cheerful country in the world.

When it comes to facing social disturbances while hosting the World Cup, Brazil's experience is hardly unique. Had their national team raised the cup for a sixth time, things might have ended differently. In many ways, the 2014 World Cup is only the latest edition of football's biggest championship, which often spreads social unrest in the places it visits—especially in Latin America.

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