Today, the World Cup will kick off in Brazil, and like every four years, hundreds of millions of people will sit down to watch match after match, to celebrate an event that now, more than ever, has become truly global. In the US, as reported by the New York Times, "after years of being greeted as the Next Big Thing that wasn't, [soccer]… has become a conversation topic you can no longer ignore." It is undeniably awe-inspiring to imagine the millions tuning in across time-zones to follow the movements of the multi-colored Brazuca: as Nation Books author Simon Kuper said in a recent interview, "the World Cup in Brazil will be the biggest media event in history, judged by numbers of viewers and numbers of clicks, and there's something majestic about that."
Yet, if this formidable event seemingly unites people across all countries in playful displays of patriotism, for Brazilians it is a socio-economic catastrophe. In June of 2013, as Brazilian authorities invested gargantuan sums to build new stadiums, Brazil's population took to the streets in more than 120 cities to protest the fact that the money used to invest in the World Cup was taken out of public funds, instead of being allocated to healthcare, affordable public transportation, and education. Because of this, 61 percent of Brazilians agreed that hosting the World Cup was a "bad thing" as the Pew Research Center recently reported. More generally, they decried the corruption rampant in the Brazilian government. Protesters were met with repression and police brutality.
This is not, as CBS maliciously reported, a matter of not being able to "afford the sky high ticket prices to the home team's game." Dave Zirin, The Nation's sport writer, best summed it up: "This isn't a movement against sports. It's against the use of sports as a neoliberal Trojan horse. It's a movement against sports as a cudgel of austerity." The World Cup funnels money out of schools and hospitals to benefit profit-hungry multinational corporations as well as the notably fraudulent FIFA, "the 1% of the 1%." Corruption pervades up to the playing field, as match fixing for betting purposes becomes a common practice, as revealed in an article in the New York Times last week. Journalist Simon Romero reports,
Brazil is marked by rifts, with some people genuinely excited about the event while others are simmering with resentment over its ballooning costs and a sluggish post-boom economy….The sense of malaise is partly about the preparations for the World Cup itself, but also reflects a deeper, underlying anxiety about the direction of the country as the economic slump has persisted amid waves of antigovernment protests, reflecting demands from the growing middle class for better services. The divisions are manifesting themselves in unlikely ways; even as many Brazilians voice support for a soccer team that has long been the nation's passion and pride, others are expressing unhappiness with the sport being placed above other priorities.
Beyond the corruption that pervades the soccer industry, the Beautiful Game still has an indubitable democratic and revolutionary potential: it only requires a ball. Nation Books has published a series of books over the years on the politics and evolution of soccer. Many of these titles can accompany you during the ups and downs of the World Cup: they would, incidentally, also make great gifts for Father's Day!