Will The Beautiful Game Turn Ugly In Brazil Amid Angry Protests At £7.6bn Cost Of World Cup Finals?


On Friday, the great and the good from the planet's best footballing nations will gather in a five-star Atlantic holiday resort in Brazil to witness the draw for next summer's World Cup. England manager Roy Hodgson will be there to learn who Wayne Rooney and his team-mates must face in the group stages of the competition. So, too, will Vicente del Bosque, coach of reigning champions Spain, and Luiz Scolari, the former Chelsea manager who now coaches the hosts.

The tournament will be promoted as a sun-drenched, inclusive and glorious celebration of what Brazilians like to call 'the beautiful game'. But according to one of the greatest strikers the game has known, it will be anything but that. Romario de Souza Faria scored 364 goals for PSV, Barcelona and Brazil in a glittering career and was the player of the tournament when his country won the World Cup in 1994.

Now, as a 47-year-old Brazilian Socialist Party politician, Romario expects the World Cup to be overshadowed by mass protests and riots as the ordinary people of Brazil take to the streets not to celebrate the beautiful game but to protest against their country's massive spending – £7.6billion – on a sports event when millions of their countrymen are struggling to get by.

Demonstrations by up to 120,000 protesters marred last summer's Confederations Cup, which was a dress- rehearsal for the World Cup. 

Romario, a scathing critic of his government's relationship with FIFA, football's world governing body, claims that too much money is being spent on next summer's tournament at the expense of vital public services.

'FIFA are only here in Brazil for the money and to line their pockets,' he told The Mail on Sunday. 'Do FIFA care if Brazil has proper transport in the cities or a structural legacy? No. FIFA are just worried whether the stadiums will be ready on time.

'Who rules in Brazil today? FIFA. They come, put on a circus, pay no tax and take the profit. The greatest benefit from the World Cup will not be left to Brazilian people, but to FIFA, to media groups, to sponsors and to contractors. 'I am not surprised that there were huge protests in the streets in the summer and I expect the same again. Our hospitals and schools are underfunded and there are huge social divisions, yet we are wasting billions of pounds of public money on mega-events, starting with the World Cup.'

Afonso Morais, a journalist and campaigner, expects the demonstrations, which saw huge numbers take to the streets during the Confederations Cup, to flare up again during this week's World Cup draw at Costa do Sauipe in Bahia. The state capital, Salvador, witnessed protest marches last summer and Morais says the protests are being driven by anger at Brazil's ex-president Lula and the former head of the Brazilian FA, Ricardo Teixeira. He once sat on FIFA's powerful executive committee but is now disgraced and mired in tax and bribery scandals.

Morais said: 'Lula and Teixeira promised us, the Brazilian people, the World Cup would be paid for with private money. They lied to us. Vast amounts of public money, needed for health and education and other social projects, is being wasted on a tournament of white elephants and no legacy.'

Brazil's readiness to stage the world's biggest single-sport event has attracted extra scrutiny over the past week after a fatal incident at one of six stadiums being built for the World Cup. Two construction workers died in Sao Paulo,  where the tournament's opening game is due to be staged on June 12, after a crane crashed into the roof. Chris Gaffney, a stadium expert who lives in Rio de Janeiro, said: 'That is a massive setback for the World Cup organisers. 'There is a debate in Brazil already over whether the stadium will be ready for the opening game. The incident highlights the pressure the organisers are under.

'The scale of the projects proposed [across Brazil] has been too much. Even with the evasion of normal democratic procedures, they haven't been able to complete these projects. People will arrive [at the World Cup] to a country under construction.'

Gaffney expects renewed protests next summer, despite fears that the police's violent response to dissent will be repeated.

'There was a positive energy about the demonstrations during the Confederations Cup,' he said. 'But the violent reaction by the police has put people off. They're afraid of getting shot and tear-gassed. This is a military police who treat the people as a threat, not as people to protect.'

Brazil's police are notorious for their brutality, particularly against those  living in the poverty-riven favelas, which are seen as a breeding ground for the country's crime epidemic. Official figures show Brazilian police killed 1,890 people last year, with more than 1,300 of those in just three states: Rio, Sao Paulo and Bahia.

Some of those killed were officially described as 'resisting arrest'. The government's response to such killings has been cynical. Jose Mariano Beltrame, the Secretary for Public Security, said: 'You cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs.'

Liz Martin, whose American nephew, Joe Martin, was shot dead by Rio police in 2007, now campaigns against Brazilian police brutality and argues that the inevitable consequence of a crime 'clean-up' in the run-up to the World Cup will be more deaths.

Martin has just launched a campaigning charity, called Don't Kill For Me, which urges FIFA and the International Olympic Committee to use their influence to change police practices. 'Rio is beautiful but its crime rate is terrible,' she said. 'The organisers have said they'll clean it up. In other words, there will be more police, who will not be well-trained, more violence and more deaths. 

'Even the police don't argue with the numbers of dead. But they say killing people as a way to deal with social problems is reasonable.'

The poorest members of Brazilian society are also among those worst affected by the World Cup 'project'. Some 19,000 people in Rio alone have already been forcibly removed from their homes to make way for tournament-related developments, according to Giselle Tanaka, of the University of Rio de Janeiro. 

She says a further 30,000 face eviction in Rio because of the World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games and those two sporting events will result in a total of 200,000 people being evicted across the country. 'They are told it is for vital transport developments,' she said. 'But often it's just new avenues, for four lanes of traffic, including lanes for VIPs.

'The government made promises that people's lives would be better with the World Cup, but for many people it's worse. We are Brazilian and we love the World Cup and I'm sure people will celebrate the football itself. We will support Brazil.

'But there will also be protests. And a lot of people will boycott games. Prices and air travel are so high, even rich people are deciding not to pay.'

The Rio authorities also stand accused of using a 'pacification' programme  -officially aimed at ridding favelas of drug barons – to clean up those areas most likely to be seen by visitors.

Many of these locations are in or near the famous beaches at Copacabana and Ipanema and close to important venues such as the Maracana Stadium or the embryonic Olympic Park. In one notorious case, a group of policemen were accused of torturing and murdering a local man, Amarildo de Souza, in the Rocinha favela close to the Royal Tulip hotel where England will be based.

For Romario, the folly of the World Cup is a simple issue: Brazil is spending money on football that it should be spending on its people.

'Our government should have recognised that the country should have given priority to health and education,' he said. 'The government should not have complied with the diktats of FIFA on stadiums, for example. 

'Winning or losing the World Cup, Brazilians are going to pay the bill for this irresponsibility.'

A FIFA spokeswoman said yesterday: 'According to official Brazilian government data, public investments in the World Cup and the 2016 Olympics account for approximately 0.15 per cent of Brazilian GDP from 2007 to 2016.'

The spokeswoman added that FIFA pay taxes in Switzerland and will pay taxes in Brazil on ticket sales, although other World Cup tax exemptions are in place. On the prospect of protests disrupting the tournament, she said: 'Nobody can predict what will happen next June. 

'But the Confederations Cup showed that the security concept for the match and tournament operation worked well. The games went ahead safely.'

Romario's final words carry a blunt warning. 'The World Cup,' he said, 'will not leave the legacy it should.'

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