Monthly Archives: June 2014

Why Brazil didn’t explode in the World Cup in 10 posts

In the end of last year I wrote ten reasons why the World Cup wouldn’t be chaotic. Obviously there was a lot of criticism to that post, but I stood by it because I saw some trends in Brazilian society that led to what we are seeing now — all going smoothly, with minor hiccups, like everywhere else. In September last year I said protests would be small and maybe violent during this month. The reasons were mounting since protests became frequent and without a clear focus, without the rise in transport fares being an issue any longer.

Although there was a lot of discontent with governance at all levels and clear engagement of some parts of society against football’s extravaganza, I noticed many Brazilians were critical basically because they were afraid of something going wrong during the World Cup. Once those predictions didn’t confirm, they gladly jumped in the bandwagon. After all, the demonstrations were against everything wrong in Brazil, not specifically the World Cup.

Some of these trends are in posts I wrote in the last year. I believe they are still valid to explain why Brazil didn’t explode. At least for now.

1 – The tension I felt in São Paulo days before the opener was not much different from the one I felt in Beijing shortly before the 2008 Summer Olympics.

2 – There were surely issues with preparations and very valid discussions about legacy. But the criticism on what would happen this month was often mirroring the sentiment of a tiny elite dislikes being Brazilian.

3 – In other occasions media have taken whatever anti-World Cup protesters said for the face value. They forgot to notice these demonstrators had’t built a solid base over the years. They just wanted the attention shortly after the event. The vast majority of Brazilians didn’t want to sabotage the event. They wanted more debate about it, but the silent majority never wanted to cancel it.

4 – Part of the criticism was basically because some saw an opportunity to beat the ruling coalition in the next general elections. It wasn’t sophisticated criticism, it was just a lot of noise that made the atmosphere more toxic than it actually deserved.

5 – People were tired of protests. It has been like that for a while and that has taken massive support from protests.

6 – Police are less terrible. That is a fact. They are more bystanders than soldiers in a number of occasions. And that has made people notice protesters were violent as well — specially after a cameraman was killed by a black bloc.

7 – Media didn’t do a good job covering the country, and I am holding myself accountable for this as well. Correspondents here surely did better, but the vast majority of news didn’t come from Brazil at all. They were just planned by some editor who has never set foot in the country, read about it or cared enough to foster accurate accounts of what was going on here. No wonder so many tourists are surprised with things going well.

8 – Hosting a World Cup is more than counting expenses. And that is why people do it. If you have any doubts about that, question someone in Manaus if they ever felt this Brazilian. Or in Natal. Or in Cuiabá. Ask people in big cities if they are happy with the tourists and what tourists have said about Brazil. Showing we can handle big events doesn’t come in a price tag.

9 – Brazil’s problems were never supposed to go away with the World Cup. People have more realistic expectations than they actually say.

10 – Brazilians have a sense there is corruption involving World Cup constructions, but most of them can’t say exactly what. In Brazil people rarely can tell the difference between corruption and investment. Since there was no focus — it could have been the Manaus or the Brasilia arenas, for example — enthusiasm for protests waned.


The Brazilian 1% at the World Cup opener: an elite in need of a reality check

By Milly Lacombe

At the opening of the 2014 World Cup, Neymar scored the goal that gave the Brazilian team the lead. The crowd cheered for a few seconds, but then they decided that it was time to do something else: insult President Dilma Rousseff, who was there watching the game with them. Nothing could define our elite in more precise manner.

That very elite was, on that day, introduced to the poor urban area of Itaquera, in São Paulo, where the brand new Arena Corinthians is located. It is an elite that, taking an educated guess here, goes to football matches with the regularity that the Halley’s comet comes across our neighborhood. When told they would have free tickets to the VIP area of the opening game of the World Cup – an event that they bitched over and over for the last seven years –, not only our elite gladly accepted them, but also rushed to fancy stores to buy Brazilian team jerseys and whatever else they could put their hands on. It is an elite that took cars driven by chauffeurs to get to the stadium, despite the fact the subway could take them even closer to the gates.

At least they felt safe, since the Brazilian people wouldn’t be attending – neither on the stands, due to extremely high prices, nor at the upscale VIP area where they were heading to. The stadium was sanitized for the luxurious event.

To the hell with the criticism to the World Cup they were verbalizing angrily for the past years: “If I got this VIP ticket for free I’ll be there, and later I can get back to bashing the event and complaining about the damned use of people’s money in all those stadiums.” The thing is this elite of ours never misses a free event with VIP passes. They surely can’t stand corruption at the federal level, although they seem to have no problem with tax frauds or with bribing anyone whenever it becomes “necessary.” “How do I get to that Itaquera neighborhood by the way, does anyone know?”

Inside the stadium, the national anthem was carried by them, collectively, loudly and proudly. What a beautiful thing it was, but  what for? With which purposes? There is no time to reflect on it; let the game begin.

The so called one percent decided it was time to cheer for the team. For a couple of minutes at least, before diving into a huge silence. And then into more silence. It began to look something different from a football match. Croatia, the other team playing that day, had scored. The silence deepens, as if it was even possible. When Neymar tied it, the elite decided to stand up and chant for another three minutes, and then they, a polite crowd, sat down.

Half time. And time to Instagram all the pictures they were happily taking during the first half. Women in high-heels, tight jeans, lots of make up. Men wearing perfectly heckled hairs, not a line out of place, jeans just as tight, and super clean shoes. They complained about the bathroom and bar lines and they didn’t seem very happy with the slow Internet connection either. It’s important to promptly Instagram their happiness and their joy and their richness to friends and friends of friends. They are not used to waiting, these people. They never do it in the outside world — their world — so why should they wait at a football match? “Bring me my beer right away, damn waiter!” Second half was about to begin.

Brazil got, by the blessing of a benevolent referee, an nonexistent penalty kick. Neymar scored again. The one percent cheered for another minute and then decide it is time to say a collective “up yours,” along with hand gestures, to Rousseff, sitting next to FIFA’s president Sepp Blatter. The sound they made was loud and clear: “Ei, Dilma, vai tomar no cu.” It’s offensive and it is vulgar. They knew it, so they chanted louder. The whole world could hear the nice and polite Brazilian one percent collectively insult their commander-in-chief.

At this point my indignation sky rocked, and I want to talk a little about that.

Right after a decisive goal you simply get to your feet and scream and dance and hug whoever happens to be on your side. After a decisive goal you do not give your back to the pitch to insult the President of your country.

The matter here is less one of ‘insulting’ — though the vulgarity was enormous — and more one of ‘timing’. If you go to football matches in Brazil, you know insulting and booing are part of the spectacle.

Of course we would have to separate things here, since the insults were aimed at the President and echoed by thousands of famous and rich people. It’s only reasonable that we examine this within context, and not only using the guidelines of Brazilian football stadiums banter.

It’s one thing to insult a player or a team or the referee. It is another to have the one percent insulting the President face to face so the world could see it.

Brazilians have made funny and creative songs to mock public figures and chanted them collectively – as it was done in Mineirão, in Minas Gerais, when Brazil played Argentina some years ago. Back then, Aecio Neves, Rousseff’s main contender for the presidential elections this year and then a Minas Gerais state governor, was mocked in a match attended by the people and not exclusively by the elite. It is all part of the game.

In Itaquera it was different. And the timing – right after a decisive goal – tells us a lot about who we are.

It was a symptom of our alienation. We are disconnected from reality, we can’t attach ourselves to deep emotions anymore. We are infected with pragmatism, craving for our vacant souls, in desperate need for something that elevates us to higher grounds. We know how to hate, but forgot how to love. We are infantile and spoiled. We were brought up that way, and it’s a hard thing to break free from these chains and see the world like it is.

Meanwhile, on the pitch, the Brazilian team mirrors that elite that is now insulting the commander-in-chief: playing cowardly, deceptively, snobbishly; a team that prefers to fool than to play, that prefers to con than to work hard – a powerful metaphor for our elite’s way of life.

Brazilian forward Fred had taken the ball to the Croatian penalty box and had a clear chance of keeping it so he could try a memorable goal, but instead he chose to dive theatrically, clearly hoping for a penalty kick. It’s simply easier and more fun to fool the authorities than to sweat for achievement.

Someone on Twitter said it is easy to insult commander-in-chief in a choir; the hard thing to do is to attend the game knowing you are going to be insulted by tens of thousands.

Let’s put ourselves in Ms. Rousseff’s shoes – even those who don’t like her administration. How many of us would have attended the opening game knowing we would be bumper to bumper with the one percent that never liked us in the first place, and knowing that we would be booed at?

Of course booing was not what happened there, as it was in Maracanã, when thousands of people booed then President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, during the 2007 Pan-american games opening ceremony. But still. Would you attend, knowing you’d be going down that same road?

By ms. Rousseff’s side was Sepp Blatter, the president of one of the nastiest bodies on the face of the Earth: FIFA. A man accused of so many crimes that we can’t even begin to name them here. If ms. Rousseff was being insulted because that elite thinks she is the leader of a corrupted government (and let’s imagine that that was the reason), why wasn’t Blatter insulted too? What kind of selective ethic is this from our extremely polite one percent?

This probably has is something to do with the fact that he is a man, and we cannot exclude machismo from what happened there, simply because machismo is alive and kicking inside that sophisticated elite of ours.

Every time I chat with one of them – and I cannot completely exclude myself from them because I was born in it – I ask what got worse in their lives in the past 12 years, since Lula’s party started holding the presidency. They have no answer for me other than generally traffic, violence and poor education given to the people – a sweet irony if put in the lights of what happened inside that stadium.

They also avoid going deep into the subject, maybe because they know things got better for those 40 million that were taken from inhumane conditions of life and ended up joining what is generally called as middle class. Also because they might understand that they are richer than ever and that the chaotic traffic in the streets of São Paulo is the solely responsibility of the governor of the state; a state that for the past 20 years have been administrated by the right wing and conservative party PSDB.

At that specific game they collectively and loudly cursed the commander-in-chief for leading an corrupted administration because apparently the cannot tolerate corruption.  Still, they will be celebrating a Brazil victory that was a clear rip off, a contradiction that their alienation stops them from seeing.

If in that stadium there were only workers and maids and buzz boys and rural workers and bus drivers, would President Rousseff be collectively insulted as she was?

I think she wouldn’t.

These are the people that know that a lot of things have changed in the past 12 years. They understand that a World Cup match is too important to be wasted on insults to the head of State and that it’s necessary to enter the game with all their souls. They know that that kind of communion does not happen very often and that it was time to support the team, which was in need. The truth with a capital T is that the people excluded from the stadiums during this event are much more elegant than us.