Protests a sign of divided Brazil ahead of World Cup

Posted by Tim Vickery

Riot police clash with protesters outside of Maracana stadium.GettyImagesRiot police clash with protesters outside of Maracana stadium.

"If your kid gets sick, take him to the stadium!" So said a banner being carried on Sunday by a protester outside the Maracana.

I felt driven to return to the subject of the protests because it seems to me that this is the most interesting single development likely to emerge from the Confederations Cup. It is a subject that has left the world -- and more importantly Brazil itself -- somewhat perplexed. After all, hasn't the country been improving, enjoying a massive economic boom that has lifted millions out of poverty?

Indeed it has, but here we can make two considerations. The first is that the country has not changed as much as some would have you believe. The World Cup illustrates the fact, which makes it such a powerful lightning rod for protest.

- Video: Protests in Brazil ahead of Confed Cup

The World Cup in South Africa three years ago was the culmination of a process whereby power changed hands. A new generation, battle hardened by the struggle against apartheid, had taken the reins. In Brazil the situation is not the same. The astonishing poverty-to-presidency story of former president Luiz Inacio Lula might disguise the fact, as might the figure of his hand-picked successor Dilma Rousseff, Brazil's first female president who was imprisoned by the military government. In general, though, Brazil is commanded by the same old people in the same old way. Football makes this very clear. The game's administration is shot through with members of the old oligarchy. So much of Brazilian politics is carried out on a basis of horse-trading and short-term, narrow-minded personal interest. Again, football makes this very clear.

For the World Cup, for example, FIFA's original idea was to keep things simple with eight host cities. Brazil successfully lobbied for 12 -- spread around the opportunities -- but then no one would take responsibility and the political fallout for choosing them, so the buck was passed to FIFA. Conclusion: The project was flawed from the start because so much time had been wasted. Playing catch-up increased costs and reduced the scope of what was possible. Outcome: more money spent on stadiums, less on projects of wider interest to society.

Same old, same old, as someone with experience of Brazil might conclude. But the reaction on the streets, the protests outside the stadiums, has confounded those who thought they knew this country. We are a passive people, resigned to such things, say the Brazilians about themselves. Not anymore, or not so much.

What was at the root of the old passivity? Fear, perhaps, and an incapacity to envisage change. But an economic boom has an effect on these factors. In boom time people have less to fear. They feel more secure to protest. And also there is a young generation emerging who know very well that change is possible. They have seen it -- plenty of it -- in their short lifetimes. And now they want more.

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