This time of year is a slow period for sports. I’m not much of an NBA fan so that sports finals are only a passing interest to me. I give Baseball the same small amount of attention. But I am a very big soccer (or football for those of you reading outside of the USA and Australia) fan, and there is some interesting soccer on this time of year.
It is mostly in the form of International Soccer (countries vs countries) as World Cup qualifying is going on sporadically, and there are tournaments like the Gold Cup in North America coming up, and right now the FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil. The Confederations Cup is a tournament of countries representing every region of the world, and is always held the year before the World Cup in the upcoming host country. Since the FIFA World Cup will be in Brazil in 2014, this year’s FIFA Confederations Cup is in Brazil.
The soccer has been fun to watch, but it has been over-shadowed by the demonstrations in many cities by millions of Brazilians. They have some very strong grievances to air about the upcoming World Cup in Brazil.
Brazil has a special place in my heart as my family lived there when I was a child for 3 years. Some of my earliest memories in life are in Brazil. I went to my first elementary school with Brazilian kids and learned to read and write Portuguese before English. Though I moved back to the USA at age 8, my years there has a lasting effect on my life.
Brazil is an incredible place with wonderful people. Not only is it beautiful (Rio de Janerio is as stunning a city as you’ll see anywhere), but the culture is fantastically rich in terms of music, dance, food, festivals, and yes….futbol. Brazilians love sports, love their country, but mostly they love playing soccer.
First, Brazil is truly homogenous. I don’t mean homogenous like the USA where we have people who come from a lineage of immigrant families, and have names and appearances from our immigrant ancestors. Brazil is homogenous in that the people are truly ‘mixed’. It is very difficult to look at a Brazilian and tell if he comes from a European, African, South American, or Asian background. Chances are his family is a mix of relatives from many places. The people and culture is beautifully mixed.
Second, Brazil suffers from terrible socio-economic divisions. Where the USA has fought its endless battles with race inequality, Brazil’s demons have more to do with economic class. They are striking.
Big cities like Rio and Sao Paulo have modern areas, directly bordered with shanty towns with impoverished people (the infamous ‘favelas’). Even as a child in Brazil, I went to school with some children who during the day were normal students, but at night probably wondered if they would get fed.
Brazil has made many advances in its economy. It has worked hard to establish free elections and democracy to replaces military rule. There is a strong middle class, I know many Brazilians who’ve built good lives for themselves because of this.
But the socio-economic problems still exist. Basic infrastructure like power, water, health care, and education are woeful for millions. The discrepancies between the cities and the rural areas are drastic, and despite living in a country with a bounty of natural resources, most still live in poverty.
To see millions protest the funding of $Billions to host tournaments like the FIFA Confederations Cup and World Cup, makes me question if soccer is really such a priority. The figures I’ve read is $15 Billion for these events, and don’t forget, the Olympics come to Brazil in 2016. These protesters have a point. Why are we building $500 million stadiums for 1 month of use? And trust me, they love sports, they love their country, and they love soccer.
These protests were widespread across many cities, some massive in size up to a million people. They also turned violent, as seen below.
If the Confederations Cup is really a trial run for the World Cup, I think its made one thing clear: the people of this host country don’t want it. Should FIFA listen and learn, and consider another venue?
Obviously it would be unprecedented, and likely too late after so much has been invested. But who can say we are really doing the right thing for this country and it people, trying to climb its way out of deep hardships and make its way into the modern world?
I again have early memories of the 1974 World Cup in Germany when I was living in Brazil. My whole neighborhood would come home early from school or work just to watch the national team play several time zones away. The Brazilian team made it to the semi-finals that year, and were gracious losers as the host West Germany won the cup.
Brazilians love soccer. But they’d rather be guests in 2014 rather than hosts. I think FIFA should seriously consider their desires.
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