Brazilians are famous for their love of football but millions of ordinary people are angry at the huge sums spent on the World Cup. Lucy McMahon, a PhD candidate in Development Studies, is working as a volunteer for two human rights organisations in Rio de Janiero. She reports on her research among some of the poorest groups.

Mega-events have a direct bearing on city planning. They result in programmes that prioritise flashy, short-term initiatives targeted at tourists and TV audiences rather than residents.

Lucy McMahon

England’s team may have returned home, but eyes remain on Brazil. As the World Cup enters its fourth week, tensions mount in the stadiums but more so in the streets outside, with protests accompanying most matches.

The World Cup is a bitter topic for many Brazilians, already angry at an undemocratic and regressive use of public funds. Football in Brazil owes much of its fame and vibrancy to the most vulnerable social groups. Megastars Romário, Pelé, Ronaldo and Jairzinho all grew up in favelas.

It is these very groups who are being evicted, priced out, repressed and shot at for the sake of FIFA’s mega-event. During the Chile-Spain match in Rio de Janeiro, 25-year-old Afonso Maurício Linhares was shot and killed by the police as he was refereeing a local football match in the Manguinhos favela just 6km from the stadium. In Belo Horizonte, an unfinished overpass constructed for the World Cup collapsed only yesterday, killing two people on a bus while others were trapped inside.

In June 2013, more than two million people took to the streets of Brazilian cities in what came to be known as the ‘Vinegar Revolt’ or ‘Brazilian Autumn’. Sparked by rising bus fares, these protests became a much larger movement against inequality, corruption, privatisation and the everyday brutality of the military police.

In Rio, as in other host cities, simmering discontent continued as World Cup construction projects resulted in unbearable levels of traffic congestion through the city’s hottest summer for 30 years. This popular anger has now re-erupted as the world focuses its attention on a country where an economic boom has done little for the majority of the population.

There is an increasing trend for city governments to use international mega-events to raise their international profile, attract investment, and provide impetus for urban development projects.

The widespread resistance to the World Cup in Brazil places an onus on social scientists, activists and policy makers to ask whether the hosting of mega-events is actually ever ‘good for’ a city, and if so, for whom exactly? The neglected stadiums in Cape Town and Athens loom as a warning for the legacy of Brazil’s World Cup as well as for Rio’s 2016 Olympic Games.

Mega-events have a direct bearing on city planning. They result in programmes that prioritise flashy, short-term initiatives targeted at tourists and TV audiences rather than residents.

Last year I supervised the undergraduate dissertation of Land Economy student Annabel Cooke, who chose to write about the links between the World Cup and the ‘pacification’ projects in Rio’s favelas. These are essentially military invasions of favelas in which a specially created police force wrests control from drug trafficking gangs.

Annabel’s research shows that these programmes are provoked and sustained by Rio’s hosting of the World Cup. The focus of pacification is largely on favelas closest to the stadiums, which leads gangs to relocate to other, poorer favelas, while indiscriminate police violence under the pretext of protecting tourists is increasing across the city.

Image-based or ‘city branding’ policies are nothing new. Brazil has long had to fabricate an image of success and stability to attract investors (from states whose own wealth was generated by resource theft from Brazil and other colonies). There is even a Brazilian saying, ‘para ingles ver’, or ‘for the English to see’. This phrase dates back to a treaty signed in 1826 between Britain and Brazil supposedly ending the slave trade, which actually continued for another six decades.

Many songs written in Rio, particularly in the genre known as ‘funk consciente’, have lyrics that tell a story of two worlds. Tourists hang out in the south zone, drinking coconut water on Copacabana beach while, in the song-writers’ worlds of the favelas and north zone, thousands of people struggle with the most basic needs of security, food and clean water.

What is the outcome of strategies that are ‘para ingles ver’? If the hosting of mega-events provides the scope and impetus for contemporary urban development, who loses out behind the glossy images, and how are people responding?

As part of my PhD, I am exploring the impact of mega-events on street vendors in Rio. The vendors I interviewed have some important insights into these questions, which are pertinent not just for Brazil but for host cities of international mega-events across the world. My interviewees spoke at length about their feelings of betrayal, invisibility and indignation at the World Cup, but also their involvement in emerging political struggles.

Street vendors are one of the most vulnerable and neglected groups of workers in the city. They suffer from police extortion during the day, assaults on public transport, and pervasive violence back home in the favelas where they live.

I work as a volunteer for a small non-profit workers rights’ organisation called CAMTRA (Casa da Mulher Trabalhadora). Based in the centre of Rio, CAMTRA is doing an extensive survey of female vendors’ impressions and experiences of the Cup.

The first phase of the study showed that many vendors fear that the World Cup would lead to a decrease in living standards due to increased police regulation of vending. The ‘General Cup Law’ passed last year stipulates that only registered established traders can sell within a certain radius of each stadium, meaning that as one vendor asserted: “With the World Cup, only those who already have money will earn.”

For the past year, vendors have faced vastly increased commutes to work, as most live in the North Zone where infrastructure projects by the airport have led to extreme congestion on the roads. In my interviews, vendors made a clear connection between poor services and the huge sums of money being spent on the World Cup. One woman working at a clothes stall exclaimed: ‘This government spending all this money on the world cup! It needs to prioritise, there are people dying in the street here.”

Some vendors had been left homeless as a result of World Cup construction projects, and in CAMTRA’s survey of more than vendors, all those who lived in favelas felt that the police ‘pacification’ projects were directed at tourists rather than residents.

All 30 of the vendors I spoke with in depth were in favour of the street protests, arguing that the unrest was a signal that Brazilians had ‘woken up’ and might achieve some real change. Some of my interviewees recalled the massive protest movement that swept the corrupt President Fernando Collor de Mello out of power in 1992. Many predicted an increase in protests during the World Cup and in the run up to the Olympics. “People are going to come back to the streets, I promise,” an orange juice seller told me, “And in larger numbers than ever before.”

There is some indication that the Brazilian government is responding to the popular mobilisations. Just before the start of the World Cup, President Dilma Rousseff committed to maintain the increase in social spending that her presidency has seen, as part of an agreement made in response to the June 2013 protests.

She has also pledged to ring-fence the hoped-for returns from the ‘Lula’ oil field (a potential gold mine of pre-salt layer oil discovered 250km off the coast of Rio de Janeiro) claiming that in the next 35 years the government would be able to invest R$1 trillion in education and health.

The World Cup and Olympic committees strive to maintain a glossy image of Brazil for corporate investors. Yet an unintended outcome of their mega-events strategy is the international attention seized by critical groups, who will hold the government to account on these public spending promises.

As well as working with CAMTRA, I volunteer as a translator for Rio on Watch, a community journalism website that is seeing high levels of traffic at the moment. As a result of reports and images that shame the government and FIFA, another picture of Brazil has emerged. Protests, state violence and political repression are now widely associated with the country, alongside football, samba and cachaça.

“The favelas cannot be silenced,” insists Ana Paula Gomes de Oliveira, mother of 19-year-old Jonathan de Oliveira Lima who was recently killed by the police in Complexo de Alemao.

More and more people are aware of the blood, sweat and tears behind the stadiums, and political reports are creeping into the sports sections of online news sources. Brazilian protesters are not actually calling on us to boycott the World Cup matches. The popular slogan and hashtag used across Brazil, ‘Nao vai ter copa’ – there will not be a world cup – is not really a threat or campaign to prevent the World Cup from happening. Rather, it is to assert that the World Cup should not be as the governors of the host cities intended – an uncontroversial, investment-garnering, glossing over of the city scapes ‘para ingles ver’. Instead, the slogan ‘Our Cup is in the Streets’ refers to the subversion of the event into another kind of ‘cup’.

This is a ‘cup of strikes’, as the striking public sector workers in Rio claimed, a cup where the eyes of Amnesty International are monitoring human rights abuses on the streets, and where competitions between national football teams are changed into comparisons between national policies. In the photo above, the banner contrasts Brazil and Uruguay. The text reads ‘Uruguay 3, Brazil 0: legalisation of abortion, equal marriage and legalisation of marijuana.’

We do need to look carefully for this ‘other cup’. It’s not going to be publicised along the edges of the stadiums with McDonalds and Hyundai. As the street vendors assert, it is the way in which the dynamics on the streets play that determine what mega-events mean to a country. And for those attending the games, one small way to support the ‘cup of the streets’ is to buy from street vendors rather than from the FIFA-endorsed chains. Just take a short walk from the stadium, and they will be there waiting for you with an ice cold beer.

Inset images: protest poster reads "the parties in the stadiums are not worth the tears in the favelas" (credit: Rio on Watch); bikini seller and tourist (credit: eGuide Travel); caipirinha seller (credit: Keetr); Uruguay versus Brazil banner compares the two countries over recent years (credit: Renato Cinco).

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