Is the World Cup Masking Brazil’s True Identity?


As the longstanding tradition of soccer unfolds onto Brazil this week, fans could not be more thrilled. If the Brazilian team – a team that has won five times – could achieve victory on their own turf, I am certain soccer fans everywhere would be ecstatic, especially given that Brazil is closely related to the sport. Yet there is much more to Brazil’s story than just FIFA and the World Cup.

From the outside looking in, it would appear that Brazil is a nation united – and although the rallying may purely be behind a sport, multiple facets of Western media are failing to look behind the curtain and see the role Brazil is playing on the world stage. Although soccer is typically synonymous with Brazilian culture, the nation seems to be lacking in its preparedness to take on this tournament. For starters, corruption runs rampant throughout politics in Brazil, meaning there is a lack of education and infrastructure (apart from the readiness of the stadiums that were meant to be completed by December 31st, 2013, various industries throughout Brazil are drastically suffering due to a lack of government funding and investment). Because of said corruption, costs to host the World Cup come at an extremely high price tag of over $15 billion, leaving many questioning whether those funds could be better spent elsewhere. Perhaps on things like education and infrastructure or even the protection of human rights (side note: hundreds of thousands of children in Brazil, particularly underage girls, are sexually abused and forced into child prostitution every year) – but hey, that’s just one woman’s suggestion. Unfortunately, that money has been invested in stadiums (and evidently not even $15 billion could have those ready by the aforementioned deadline).

As if political corruption was not enough, there is a vast amount of civil unrest, both related and unrelated to this sporting event. As I said, soccer is associated as the sport that unites this country, but apart from the World Cup, amateur games have ended in stabbings and killings, which is just a step into Brazil’s lawlessness. The mood in Brazil is a dismal one, with numerous Brazilians actually boycotting the World Cup and demanding improvements in health care and public transportation. According to Pew Research Center, in June 2013, 55% of Brazilians were dissatisfied with the condition of their country. As of June 2014, that number has skyrocketed to over 72%. Protesters question a “World Cup for Who?,” disseminating the message that Brazil’s government is looking out for the interests of tourists rather than the country’s citizens, and using it as a method to rake in more money (that I’m sure will not be put to proper use).

Not even the commercialization and fame of this event can cloud the bad press that Brazil has been receiving. While visitors to the games are concerned over the hefty amount of crime and abundance of drug rings and violence, those that call Brazil their home are finding difficulty in mounting any sort of pride for their homeland. Workers and services that are crucial to a successful and efficient implementation of the multitude of games that are taking place are also faltering. Last year, Brazil upped its transportation fares, which spells trouble for the thousands living in poverty. In São Paulo, bus drivers decided to go on strike until they received higher wages, which means visitors cannot get to where they are going, and neither can citizens. And when you have over 300,000 individuals trying to make their way home, only to yield little success, you then turn 300,000 commuters into 300,000 very frustrated individuals. The lack of investment in transportation services is simply adding fuel to Brazil’s already lit fire.

The vicious cycle does not stop here, however. This pent up anger and frustration on the part of Brazil’s citizens only adds to the already high levels of violence. But police presence cannot be relied on in this country. With only 33% of Brazil’s citizens satisfied with the police force, individuals are left to serve and protect for themselves.

Speaking of protection, did I mention the mounting gang violence and drug wars? Apart from alluding to it previously, Brazil is comprised of various slums that are privy to gang violence…gang violence that is allowed to continually occur due to political corruption and the presence (or lack of presence, I should say) of the police.

And the police officers that are doing their due diligence? Well they are trying to take on the drug wars that are being waged throughout Rio as the consumption of crack continues to escalate despite efforts of raids and evacuations. But because the police force is primarily focused on gangs and the prevalence of drugs, numerous innocents are put at risk, especially peaceful protesters. Last year, thousands of Brazilian citizens were killed at the hands of the police, closing our vicious cycle, but leaving many in the Western world speculating about what can be done to improve the conditions throughout a country that seems to be going downhill.

What can be done? America’s history would illustrate that maybe things would shape up if we just plopped some troops and military equipment down and really show these people how democracy is done. Then again, I’ve never been a big fan of war and I’m always one to mind my own business – oh, and not to mention, America’s track record with that whole “let’s disperse troops everywhere” mantra hasn’t proven to be so peachy keen. Do we mean well? I’d hope so. Then again, I’m sure we all remember the shit show era of President George W. Bush and those “weapons of mass destruction.” But I digress…

What Brazil does need is democracy, but not one that is forced. The citizens of this country need to be able to elect officials that will govern for the people, not for the tourists, and sure as heck not for themselves. Recently, Brazil has taken up efforts to gradually improve its situation. The government has initiated a pacification program to limit gang violence and police officers will be receiving a 15 percent increase in wages starting next month in hopes of curbing protests and increasing security – not just during the time of the World Cup, but all year round. And while more steps need to be taken to further the protection of citizens’ rights, we can acknowledge that Brazil, at the very least, is not at a standstill. They may be moving forward slowly, but they are moving forward nevertheless.

In the meantime, however, there is not a soccer ball in the world large enough to cover the reality that lurks eerily close behind the nearing sporting endeavors.

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