Brazil’s World Cup preparations endured a rough Friday, as police clashed with striking subway workers in Sao Paulo, massive traffic jams snarled the megacity and fans booed the national team.
The scuffle in the metro station and a separate anti-government protest that gathered 3,000 people raised fears of more unrest when Brazil and Croatia open the World Cup in Sao Paulo on Thursday.
Police fired tear gas and swung batons to beat back picketing strikers inside a central station after commuters tried to enter.
The strike, affecting millions of commuters, was to continue for a third day yesterday after the workers’ union and their employers failed to reach a deal on a pay raise.
Meanwhile, across town, demonstrators blocked the street in front of the Central Bank in a peaceful protest organized by the Force Union against the economic policies of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.
“Our problem is not with the national team. We will cheer for them. But on Oct. 5, we will send Dilma Rousseff to hell,” said union leader Paulo Pereira da Silva, referring to the upcoming presidential election.
The subway strike caused headaches for fans who attended Brazil’s labored 1-0 victory against Serbia in the team’s final friendly in Sao Paulo’s Morumbi Stadium.
Sections of the crowd jeered the team led by Barcelona star Neymar as they struggled to find the net against the Serbians.
“Our players are ready to accept criticism when they don’t play well,” said manager Luiz Felipe Scolari, whose team is under massive pressure to deliver a record sixth World Cup trophy.
While Brazil played at Morumbi on Friday, the first World Cup game is to be played in the city’s new Corinthians Arena, which is awaiting safety clearance to operate at full capacity, highlighting the authorities’ struggle to be ready for the tournament.
Officials must resolve the metro strike because the subway will be the main link to the arena.
With three of five metro stations disrupted by the strike, bumper-to-bumper traffic stretched as far as 251km as the subway system’s 4.5 million users turned to cars or buses amid torrential rain.
“I’m going to have to return home. I can’t get to work like this,” said Pedro Henrique Rodrigues, a 28-year-old pastry factory worker who stood in a massive bus line.
It was the latest strike to hit Brazil, where bus drivers, teachers and police have staged walkouts in other cities in recent months to demand better wages.
The chaos in Sao Paulo is of the sort Brazilian officials and world soccer body FIFA want to avoid, following the violent protests that marred last year’s Confederations Cup, a World Cup dress rehearsal.
It was in Sao Paulo that mass protests erupted exactly a year ago, as citizens took to the streets to voice anger at rising public transport fares. The unrest ballooned into nationwide demonstrations against the more than US$11 billion being spent on the World Cup, with more than 1 million people taking to the streets.