Brazil’s love of soccer has been blamed for distracting the population from its social problems. Therefore, it is ironic that it is the World Cup that has mobilized Brazilians. Raising flags with no party color, the people on the street are crying out for an end to corruption and against the waste of public money, both of which are so common in Brazil.
These protests will strengthen Brazil’s democratic culture and could not come at a more timely moment: With the legislation currently weak, corruption is rife and those who steal from the public are let off the hook. As a congressman for the Brazilian Socialist Party, I am comfortable being so critical of the state of the law in my country, because for a long time I have not shied away from pointing out the abuses that take place around here.
When Brazil won the bid to host the World Cup, other politicians were in charge of the country and our political reality was different. I supported the bid because it promised to generate employment and income, promote tourism and strengthen the country’s image.
Since then, Brazil has been affected by the turbulence in the world economy. Government plans were redrafted, public investment was cut — yet the commitments signed with all-powerful world soccer body FIFA stayed the same. Investment in cities hosting World Cup matches were prioritized over the people’s needs. Money was channeled predominantly toward sport projects, at the expense of health, education and safety.
In many cities, conditions in schools are deplorable. Teachers are poorly paid and demoralized, and Brazil is now ranked second-last on Pearson’s education quality index out of 40 countries. Worse, one in four students who start out in basic education leave school before they complete the last grade.
Brazil’s public health situation is worrying, too. Those who have to rely on public hospitals often end up with their sickness aggravated by the lack of professional treatment. There have been press reports about people dying while on hospital waiting lists, without receiving even basic treatment. Who is responsible for this criminal irresponsibility?
Problems with education, health and safety were inherited by previous governments, making the country socially vulnerable, in spite of what the economic index may say. Brazil is now one of the 10 major world powers, but how does that matter to the people if the social loss is so evident?
Under former Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the World Cup proposal was to have an event in which there was transparency on public spending. The opposite has occurred. An initial budget of 25.5 billion real (US$11.4 billion) has risen to 28 billion real — almost three times the cost of Germany’s World Cup in 2006. Why are we organizing the most expensive World Cup in history, without any of the benefits to the community we were promised?
Plans to improve traffic around host cities have turned out to be chaotic, too; only three have stuck to their budgets and deadlines. Numbers like these have made the public angry and fuelled popular protests, in a bid to reverse the logic of a system that privileges money over social matters.
Meanwhile, FIFA has announced that it will make a 4 billion real profit from Brazil’s World Cup, tax-free. Its easy profit contrasts with the total lack of an effective legacy. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff repeats what Lula said, reassuring us that we will “host the best World Cup of all time.”
I do not agree, because we have failed on what matters most: a legacy to make us proud.
I never thought the World Cup would solve all of our problems, but now my fear is that this mega event will only deepen the problems we already have.
Romario de Souza Faria is a Brazilian Socialist Party legislator and a World Cup-winning soccer player with Brazil.