Brazilian Protesters Are Hijacking An Unprecedented Moment In Sports History In Order To Change Their Government


Hosting the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016 — which has never happened in the same country within three years — has been touted as Brazil’s chance to “show the world it has more to offer than just street parties and first-rate football.”

But over the past week, amid the World Cup’s ongoing preliminary tournament, the people have told their government that public services trump even”O Jogo Bonito” (i.e. “The Beautiful Game”).

“What am I protesting for?” Savina Santos, a 29-year-old civil servant in Sao Paulo, said to Reuters. “You should ask what I’m not protesting for! We need political reform, tax reform, an end to corruption, better schools, better transportation. We are not in a position to be hosting the World Cup.”

It’s telling, given how much Brazilians love fútbol, that a million of them are marching to tell the government that they’d prefer better public services to increased tourism and the building of more hospitals instead of more stadiums.

They’re doing this by embedding their message in the fabric of the World Cup experience.

Here a protester/fan at the Confederations Cup Group A soccer match between Brazil and Mexico holding up a sign that reads, “We want hospitals up to FIFA’s standard”:


The “Fifa standard” is a reference to the “first world standard” required by FIFA for World Cup arenas, which has not extended outside of the massive stadiums.

“Ending the Cup next year, we’ll be forgotten again in our reality typical of the outskirts of Fortaleza,” Professor Raymond John Smith, 55, who lives tens of meters from $520 million Estadio Castelao, told BBC Brazil (translation via Google).

Isa, a blogger who grew up between New York and Bangkok before living in Sao Paulo (i.e. Latin America’s largest city), eloquently explains why the protests are so remarkable:

Brazilians don’t like to get worked up about things. They like to sit back, and relax, and would rather sweep issues under the rug if they can possibly avoid confronting them and as long as things look pretty. This has allowed corruption to run wild in the background as the government prepared a pretty face for the world in the foreground. …

The trigger for the protests was a small increase in bus fare, but the real reasons for discontent lie in decades of corruption and high taxes coupled with low services – I once heard it described as “France’s taxes but Somalia’s services”. Most cities have already rescinded the hike in transportation fares – a small victory – but the protests continue.

brazilDemonstrators carry a banner made of Brazilian national flags during a protest against the Confederations Cup and President Dilma Rousseff’s government, in Recife City June 20, 2013.

Importantly for the protestors, the confluence of bubbling public gripes and the hosting of the world’s two biggest sporting events in three years suggest that the vigorous movement may have staying power.

brazilA combination picture shows demonstrators with their faces painted and wearing a Guy Fawkes mask during a protest against the Confederations Cup and President Dilma Rousseff’s government, in Recife City June 20, 2013.

From Isa:

The protestors are primarily young, white, upper-class students with few strong political ties … The question will be whether they have the conviction to keep this up, and whether those that suffer the true consequences of corruption in Brazil – the poor, the lower-class, the uneducated – will join them. Let’s hope their what-can-we-do attitude doesn’t get the better of them.

Editor’s note: This 10-second clip is a pithy illustration of the connection between the people and O Jogo Bonito:

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.