When Brazil was announced host of the football World Cup 2014, all expected a big party. A country where football is a national passion, home of the jogo bonito. But a few days prior to kick off, the majority of the Brazilians are questioning the mega-tournament.
They point out excessive spending on new stadiums while funds are desperately needed to improve the public health system and education. Not to speak of public transport.
The World Cup in Brazil mixes passion with social protest. German photojournalist Kai Behrmann set out to cover the other side of the biggest event in football.
The night has already fallen on São Paulo. The small courtyard is only half-lit. One neon light is not enough. The other side remains in the dark. Icaro doesn’t care. The soccer ball seems to be glued to his feet. He does not wear shoes on the uneven concrete ground. Neither potholes nor his opponents can stop him.
He hammers the ball between the white marks painted on the wall. “Goooool!”, shouts Icaro and celebrates with his teammates.
He comes to play here every day, tells Icaro (15). After school, of course. He does not want to become a professional football player.
He prefers something more down to earth. “Accountant, maybe,” says the teenager.
Playing football is still his big passion. He’s thrilled that the World Cup will be held in Brazil this year.
And who will win the title? “Brazil of course – in the final against Germany.”
Just some 60 feet away from Icaro, nobody is looking forward to the World Cup.
Housing space is scarce in São Paulo.
A door leads from the courtyard to a narrow room. It’s slowly crowding up. Formerly there was a shop. The access to the road is blocked with corrugated iron.
For four years, the dilapidated building has already been occupied. Every now and then the police storms in and drives away the inhabitants – but not for long. They always come back. Housing space is scarce in São Paulo.
Today, the weekly meeting of the “Comitê Popular da Copa” is going to take place. since 2010, the nationwide movement mobilizes against the World Cup.
In all twelve host cities, different social organizations and representatives of civil society have come together in citizens committees. Their slogan is: “Copa para quem?” – “World Cup for whom”.
They organize protest marches and criticize that socially disadvantaged people are excluded from the major sporting event and are often even threatened in their existence.
“Two light bulbs on the ceiling bathe the room in cold light.“
When the last one of the 50 participants arrives this evening, all white plastic chairs are already taken. Those who haven’t managed to get a seat, are squatting down on the ground or are leaning against the walls. Two light bulbs on the ceiling bathe the room in cold light.
On the wall in red letters is written: “Quem não luta ta morto” – “Who does not fight, is already dead.”
Then Juliana opens the meeting. The woman in her early thirties asks everyone to briefly introduce himself.
Representatives of Greenpeace are present as well as activists campaigning for the interests of mobile street vendors.
The spectrum is wide. The common denominator: all are against the World Cup.
One of them is Alderon Costa.
The man with the gray curly hair is the co-founder of “Rede Rua”, a NGO fighting for the rights of homeless people in São Paulo.
Costa was there, when the anger of many Brazilians erupted last summer with full force before the eyes of the world.
The inner cities of many World Cup venues resembled a battlefield.
During the Confederations Cup – which was supposed to mark the countdown of the big football party in the country of the five-time world champion – thousands of people took to the streets instead. Cars were burning. The inner cities of many World Cup venues resembled a battlefield. The military police responded with brute force.
Brazil’s president Dilma Rousseff acknowledged the public opinion and promised her dissatisfied fellow countrymen: “We have listened, and we have understood.” Warm words, which then weren’t followed up by concrete action. A genuine dialogue never took place, says Costa.
“People are tired of being fooled by politicians.”
A few hours before, he had attended a meeting where the Minister and General Secretary of the Brazilian government Gilberto Carvalho had granted to representatives of civil society: “We haven’t adequately informed the population and gave them the opportunity to get involved in the planning of the World Cup projects.”
This had led to create a negative atmosphere in the country. He was there to change that. Too late.
With the kick-off around the corner, World Cup opponents are no longer willing to negotiate. Brazilians might have the image, to be happy and peaceful people, says Costa. “But we are also combative”, he concludes. This can be seen now throughout the country: “People are tired of being fooled by politicians.”
São Paulo’s public transportation is a disaster.
Next week they want to take the streets of São Paulo again.
Where exactly, that question kindles a heated debate. Some are in favor of a march through the city center. Others prefer a highly symbolic place as the World Cup stadium in Itaquera.
One participant presents plans showing where police stations are located. Everything has to be taken into account. The accessibility of the place also plays a crucial role. São Paulo’s public transportation is a disaster. In the evening during rush hour its impossible to mobilize great numbers of people due to crowded buses and subways.
While the World Cup opponents are planning their next actions, Icaros goal celebrations keep on ringing out through the night.
He is not against the World Cup, says Costa, “but against a World Cup according to the rules of Fifa”. The high investments in stadiums and infrastructure amounting to about eight billion euros are, however, much more needed in areas such as health and education. Or for affordable housing.
“The World Cup is a big party at the expense of the poorest.“
It is already clear that Brazil will host the most expensive World Cup ever. Three times as expensive as the World Cup in Germany 2006.
Costa is certain: while the Fifa and its sponsors reap the profits – tax-free – those already struggling to survive will have to pay the bill. “The World Cup is a big party at the expense of the poorest who can not even afford a ticket”, he says.
The situation of the homeless in São Paulo, for example, is dramatic, says the activist. In the course of the World Cup it has deteriorated even further.
“The Price of the World Cup”
Danish documentary by Mikkel Keldorf about the social and human cost of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil:
“What we are seeing here is a systematic expulsion of the poor from the city center. The public space should be clean when the World Cup begins and the tourists from all over the world arrive”, states Costa. “The homeless are often violently evicted by police from their sleeping places.”
“Security forces clearly attempt to criminalize the protesters.”
The fact that the mass protests are often accompanied by violence, is primarily due to the conduct of the military police, according to Costa.
Although he admits the presence of groups of masked and violent anarchists, the so-called “black blocs”, who join the heterogeneous movement of the World Cup opponents. But the security forces clearly attempt to criminalize the protesters.
He knows of military police officers dressed as civilians who march with the demonstrators and deliberately provoke clashes with security forces. “This is a tactic that had already been practiced under the military dictatorship from 1964 to 1985”, explains Costa.
Meanwhile, the assembly has agreed on a location. The next march is going to tak place in the city center. Now three groups are formed to talk about security, communication and mobilization. The latter is particularly important. “The date must be spread immediately through all social media channels”, reminds a young man.
Many Brazilians sympathize with the World Cup opponents. The tension has been risen for a long time. Although Brazil has recently boomed economically and millions of people have joined the middle class, wealth is still distributed extremely unevenly. The potential for social conflicts is high.
“There will be violent protests again.”
The recent riots in the slums, the so-called favelas, also show that the often acclaimed pacification followed by the purge of criminal structures is very fragile in many areas. This is the breeding ground of the protests. Despite the heterogeneity of the movement, all social actors know: the World Cup offers a perfect stage to attract worldwide media attention.
At the last demonstration in São Paulo, there were about 1,500 participants. Next time there have to be more. “1000 would be a shame! Go out there and spread the word”, says Juliana as everybody is leaving to go home.
The protest movement was not able to stop the World Cup. However, the protests will continue – for more social justice in Brazil.
For the World Cup, Costa predicts the same of what happened during the Confederations Cup one year ago. He is sure: “There will be violent protests again. The military police has been preparing a long time and won’t hesitate to brutally respond to social protest.”
As the World Cup opponents disappear into the night, Icaro is still kicking in the courtyard. He has scored again. Jubilant, he looks up into the dark sky. Above his head is hanging laundry out of nearly every window. Not only housing space is scarce.
The author of this article is presently in Brazil covering the other side of the World Cup. He’s available for assignments and can be reached at: email@example.com.