New soccer stadiums dotting Brazil have become iconic of the frustration on the streets: The government is investing billions in sports but not schools or hospitals.
The wave of protests that swept across Brazil in recent nights started out about rising bus fares, not soccer stadiums. But organizers of next year’s World Cup are increasingly finding themselves in the cross hairs of angry demonstrations.
Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets in Brazil protesting against everything from politicians, to corruption and the lack of accountability.
Many Brazilians are fed up with paying through the nose for the poor services delivered by utilities companies, banks, health insurers, cell phone providers, and others. And the new soccer stadiums dotting the country have become iconic representations of the frustrations many protesters have gone to the streets to express. They're angry at a government happy to invest billions in building stadiums but not schools and hospitals. All this precisely at a time when the country is hosting the Confederations Cup, a two-week test event for the World Cup that features eight of the world’s top national teams.
"We don’t have health, we don’t have education, we don’t have anything dignified,” one protester said on camera in São Paulo on Monday night. “The only thing that they gave us was a stadium. If our child is sick we don’t want to take him to a stadium. We want education for our children and decent health. We don’t have this in Brazil.”
Brazil has vowed to spend upwards of 26.6 billion reais ($14 billion) organizing the World Cup and a lot more in organizing the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro two years later. But at least four of the 12 stadiums, including the most expensive in Brasilia, are destined to be white elephants, going to waste. At least five cities have admitted they won’t be able to complete their promised urban transport projects before the World Cup takes place, if at all.
Many of the protesters at this week’s rallies held placards against FIFA and the World Cup. And a campaign got under way asking the expected 600,000 foreign visitors not to come.
“People are realizing they have been tricked and seduced by the world of consumerism and they feel that they are not being allowed to participate in the party they are paying for,” says Christopher Gaffney, an American professor of architecture and urban planning who lives in Rio and is studying preparations for the World Cup.
Mr. Gaffney believes the protests will continue in the six cities where Confederations Cup matches are being held. And that’s bad news for Brazil and bad news for FIFA. “I think that in Rio you see the schedule of games for the Maracana [Stadium] and you can cut out Confederations Cup schedule and paste in demonstrations schedule,” Gaffney says. “The world’s media is there and you have to take advantage of that.”