A curious thing before I start: in the last few days I talked to more Russian journalists than British ones about the protests in Brazil. I say that as someone who is living in London, took an MA in Interactive Journalism and does some freelance for media here every now and then. I should have seen that coming, but it is a shock to see how distant the UK is from Latin America — perhaps it is because nations in that region were never their colony.
Unlike many of my Brazilian and international colleagues who are worried about police violence, rioters and a new right-wing tone in some of the demonstrations, my English friends seem more concerned about the World Cup. It is comprehensible, since part of the protesters are against big spending in stadia. But it is important they get their facts right before putting them out. The first of them is on the Brazilian support for the tournament they will host next year. I say that as someone who IS going to the World Cup, despite being critical about the ways it was done.
Pretty and naive Carla Dauden, one of the Brazilians living in the USA and the doing politics of no to in the name of the country she lives far away from
The video above is one of the examples of the middle class revolt some of the protests have become. It sees Brazil with the eyes of what has become famous there as “street dog syndrome,” as if Brazil were no good to take a bigger role in global issues and should be left quiet. The way Carla does it is basically old politics disguised in YouTube format. She is saying we should transform victory and responsibility in defeat and absence. It is a pretty stupid way of being political, although I always think it is better than nothing. But taking what she says for the country she once lived is not very clever either. It is a mistake that finds echoes in numbers. It is not merely my impression about things.
Until weeks ago 77% of Brazilians supported the World Cup, according to Datafolha — Brazil’s most respected pollster. Datafolha also says 77% of Brazilians supported the protests against transport fares rising.
Just by putting these two together it is notorious the World Cup issue is not the main one for many of the Brazilians who took the streets. The fact the Confederation’s Cup gives the protests some time in the limelight doesn’t mean people are there necessarily willing to give it away. I am sure support figures have changed after the protests rocking the country since last week, but 77% is a good reference that should not be forgotten.
There is no merit in saying rejection is everywhere because of naive Brazilians living in the United States and speaking good English. Yet less merit when that is used to suggest football’s Holy Grail is taken somewhere else because Carla and those who watched her on YouTube allegedly don’t want it. It is vulture politics meeting politics of no. A backlash awaits.
The majority, regardless of the impact of the demonstrations, is not on the streets in a country of almost 200 million people. And that is not something within the grasp of Brazilians living in the United States that make popular videos about changing Brazil. If they suggest changing Brazil from far away with YouTube videos and a call for boycotts, I can only say “no thanks.” I don’t care if her video got 3 million hits on YouTube. As one of my lecturers said at City, many times the word HITS stands for How Idiots Track Success.
Secondly, not having the World Cup anymore would cost Brazil US$ 5 billion. I guess that value speaks for itself. And Carla won’t pay for that with her Boycott Express. All spending in stadia takes into account future revenues. What Carla suggests is that Brazil gets no revenues after spending. That is plain stupid. Not to mention she mixes the idea of having a better infrastructure (which is two thirds of the £9 billion rebuild) with investing it all in sports arenas. That is plain wrong.
Of course Brazil needs better healthcare and education. Of course there have been excessive spending in stadia which deserve proper investigation and accountability. But the amount spent on World Cup stadia is many times lower than that on healthcare. This year alone Brazil will spend about £25 billion on healthcare. I wrote extensively on World Cup preparations for British magazine FourFourTwo and for my final project at City University London. I know the legacy will be smaller than necessary. But not spending isn’t a good solution either. Comparing the Brazilian World Cup to Germany’s, where the infrastructure was already great, and South Africa, where very little was done, is very shallow.
Thirdly, Brazil got the right to host the World Cup in 2007 and it was a consensus it should do that. That might not have been widely debated with society in the form of a referendum like some cities do with the Olympics, but that wasn’t the case either for many countries. Africans predominantly agreed South Africa should have it. South Americans were side by side to defend Brazil’s bid. You can see how much of a consensus it was just be comparing the reactions after Brazil got “the responsibility” to host the World Cup and that getting the Olympics.
There was no boycott agenda there. It was basically because FIFA had started a system in which every continent would host it every four years. Brazil was chosen as the host of the Americas, just like European slot was taken by Russia for 2018. The Asian one is Qatar’s for 2022 (at least for now). Bids that lost shouldn’t skip the queue on the grounds of “we don’t know if you are up for it”.
Fourth, the World Cup issue is in the agenda because the Confederations Cup is going on and some protesters wanted the attention — there is no way around that. It is a test event one year the main course. Before June came, the main protests World Cup related weren’t even on the streets and cared mostly about selling alcoholic beverages in the stadia. Most of the people were against having beer as they watch football inside the venues, just like bored Carla can do in the American stadia she probably goes to. Of course there were other issues and protests, but they clearly didn’t impact mainstream politics as much — although they probably got a very high number of views on YouTube.
Finally, protests have never been a reason to move the World Cup somewhere else or say people there don’t want it. The most notorious case is Colombia, which was supposed to get it in 1986 despite of the guerrilla fight there showing its first signs. But that wasn’t the main reason why it was moved to Mexico. It was because an earthquake made it financially impossible for Colombians. If boycotting were case, Beijing shouldn’t have hosted the Olympics in 2008. Mexico City shouldn’t have done it 1968 — and protests there seem to have been more violent than in Brazil. The last two had little to do with a vibrant democracy. The Brazilian case, despite the riots of Thursday, predominantly are.
When the UK riots happened in 2011 very few were doubtful London 2012 would be a success. Only China challenged Britain’s ability to do it — you have to wonder why. It is true Britons did feel suspicious. But the tone of those who wanted to be constructive never went near the Olympics. They accepted Britain was dealing with a revolt than didn’t hide all the merits they had to host the Olympics. Brazil is no different.
The fact Brazil is barely covered by British press shouldn’t serve as an excuse to push a negative agenda as if the risks for the World Cup there were any bigger than they were for the Olympics here. After all, at least the majority of Brazilian protesters are not rioters.
Of course Brazil isn’t ready for the World Cup and has to use the next 12 months to do it decently. But democracies should be more patient with other democracies when they are debating their future, and not merely embracing extremists as if they represented the majority. That seems to be the case for Brazilian boycotters who repeat the politics of no as if they were doing any good just by saying it.
They don’t. I embrace critics of high expenses and I have been one of those myself. But nation-building comes at the expense of debate, not of “leave these problems for someone else” naive politics. Specially by those who want to organize boycotts living miles away from the place they were supposed to be to make a real difference.