The real legacy of a World Cup

Photo: Fernando Frazão/ABr


By Erich Beting
Countless Brazilians are taking to the streets in protests that started as an uprising against increasing transportation prices and evolved into country-wide demonstrations against the World Cup spending among other things. In this article, Erich Beting, Brazilian journalist and sports business expert, gives his account of the demonstrations.

“We want the FIFA Guidelines for hospitals and education”. That’s one of the ironic messages that were showed on demonstrators’ signs in cities across Brazil. Over the last week, Brazil has completely changed its mood. From a warm country and an “always happy” people, we have become an unstable country with angry people.

But why?

The problem started with an increase of 7% in the public transport service in São Paulo (from US$ 1,50 to US$ 1,60), the largest city of the country. Some people decided to start a movement called ‘Free Pass’, arguing for a free public transport fare. They made the first act on June 6th, with 2,000 people. The next day, they were 5,000. On June 11th, 5,000 people took to the streets again.

At this time, the big media were against the protests, saying that the protesters were just children without any sense of living in a society. Yes, they made an even bigger mess of the already horrible traffic in São Paulo and in places there were some destruction in their paths.

But everything changed on June 13th. One day after the celebration of Valentine’s day, what was probably the same 5,000 people who had been protesting all week took to the streets again. While walking, they were saying “no violence”, when the police started to do just the opposite. They stopped the act with a lot of violence, throwing gas bombs and, even worse for their image, shot rubber bullets at the journalists covering the protests.

And then, just like magic and with a lot of collaboration on Facebook, the game started.

Sport issues join the protests
With the first game of the FIFA Confederations Cup on June 15th in Brasília, capital of the country, we saw that the FIFA balloon was just about to explode. In a city that spent US$ 700 million to build a stadium that probably will be the biggest white elephant after the World Cup, people are dying with no place at public hospitals.

You can also add corruption problems with local politicians and a lot of disappointment with the political class in general at the heart of politics in Brazil. The result was a number of demonstrations against the abusive spending on the Mané Garrincha stadium in Brasilia, the first protests directly linked with the cost of the World Cup. And, once again, the police just repressed the protesters with rubber bullets and gas bombs. The problem, in that case, was that the people were carrying flowers and posters with the words ‘peace’ and ‘no violence’.

On June 17th, almost 270,000 Brazilian citizens went to the street. The protests were no longer just about the increased public transport fare in São Paulo and in other cities. People from different groups, from different ways of thinking and from different reasons, had joined in protest.

And in that scenario, the World Cup theme just became reality. For almost six years, all that you heard about the Fabulous FIFA World Cup in Brazil was about the new stadiums, the change of perspective in Brazil and, of course, the promises of a legacy for the people.

But the game changed when a lot of promises amounted to nothing. No public transportation changes, no airport changes, and worse, even more critical infrastructure problems in the country.

For the last two years, at the airports, in traffic jams or in any congestion caused by an excess of people, you can hear the complaint: “Imagine this during the World Cup”.

Football players join protests on social media
In the essence of the national protests, the World Cup theme was always a trending topic, to use the Twitter expression, but just as a complaint – not as a reason for people to take to the streets. We sell the image of the big giant that woke up to the world after having been asleep for the last five years, and the time of the big test just started without a big change of perspective. When the people go to the streets, they are reminding the country that we need to wake up.

“Football and big sports events were always used, through history, as a way to manage the people by politicians. And this time, I see that people are using a big event to say to politicians and the world that their causes and rights are being disrespected. This is a historical moment and with a magnificent answer to some authorities that thought that football could stop the voices of the people. Let’s move on. That’s the real legacy of the World Cup,” wrote SC Corinthians’ defender Paulo André, one of the most engaged players in the country, on his official Facebook page.

He was the first sports celebrity to defend the cause. After him, a lot of influential people in the sports industry started to support the protests in the country. Also, the players that are playing in the Confederations Cup joined the ‘voice of the streets’.

Defenders Dante (Bayern Munich) and David Luiz (Chelsea) used their personal Twitter accounts to express solidarity with the people, arguing for unity and “a better country”. Also Fred, the striker of the national team, wrote some words on his personal Twitter account saying that the “Giant woke up”, referring to the phrase used on posters in the streets and on social media.

Added pressure on politicians
You could feel the change coming from the streets spreading to the whole country, and the pressure on the politicians was big. On Tuesday, President Dilma Rousseff made a statement, defending all the demonstrations, but also the police and the government.

“The greatness of the protests from yesterday proves the strength of our democracy. Brazil is proud of them. We need to congratulate them on the peaceful way the protests took place. Of course there were some violence acts, but these were less than the number of people who showed. The ones that came to the streets made a direct message for us. It’s a claim for more citizenship, better schools, hospitals… It’s a claim for better quality in public transport and for fair fares,” she said.

The freedom of speech was also the topic of the speech by José Maria Marin, president of the Local Organizing Committee and the Brazilian Football Confederation. Linked with the military dictatorship in Brazil in the 70s and 80s, Marin tried to remain silent and avoid the press. But, also on Tuesday, he went to a press conference to announce another sponsor for the Brazilian national team and needed to answer the questions about what happened.

“All kinds of manifestation are part of a democratic country. People can go to the street, it’s legal. The stadiums are there, and the game will happen. Of course we need to solve some problems, but that’s why we have the Confederations Cup. To see what we need to improve for the World Cup next year,” said Marin, in a rather unrelated answer to the journalists’ question of whether he is concerned about the impact of the protests on the Confederations Cup.

The most critical player was Rivaldo, World Cup winner in 2002, former Barcelona player and the best football player in the world in 1999.

“A country without a voice cannot change. Congratulations to the Brazilian people for getting together and showing strength and unity. Maybe this can change something. It’s a shame that we are spending so much on this World Cup and leave hospitals and schools in horrible conditions. At this time we don’t have conditions to host a World Cup, we don’t need that. We need education and health. I needed to say that, because I was poor and know from my own experience the difficulty of studying in a public school and not having access to good health service. It still hurts today when I remember that my father died because he did not get medical assistance at the public hospital in Recife when he was hit by a car,” he wrote on Twitter.

His point of view contrasts with his former teammate Ronaldo’s. They made a very talented duo at the 2002 World Cup, but clearly they play on different teams now. In 2011, when he was announced as a member of the Local Organizing Committee, he gave a polemic interview.

“The government is spending a lot of money on health, security… But we’ll host the World Cup. And the World Cups is made by stadiums. Without them, we don’t have a World Cup. We don’t manage a World Cup with hospitals. I’m not part of the government, but I’m sure that they are doing a lot of different investments, not only in stadiums”.

This interview is now being spread through social media, reminding people of his position on the situation. Former Brazilian national player and one of the most outspoken critics of the World Cup in Brazil, Romário, just made another polemic declaration about that on the web.

“I warned people that the World Cup would be the biggest robbery in Brazil’s history. Now do you believe me?” he questioned.

The protests only started as a public uprising against the unfair public transport fare. Now, the World Cup is an important issue in the protests. As we have said during the last couple of years; “can we imagine what’s going to happen in 2014?” The presidential election is next year, just after the World Cup. It will be a tough test for the politicians and also for the democracy in Brazil.

The current protests are not just about the World Cup. But they may become the story of the magical legacy of a big sports event.

Erich Beting is founder and director of

Brazil theme page
For more information about Brazil and the upcoming mega-events, the challenges they present and the issues they create, go to Play the Game’s Theme Page on Brazil

Play the Game 2013
The mega-events in Brazil are also main issues at Play the Game's conference on 28-31 October in Aarhus, Denmark. Here, interesting and relevant speakers will elaborate on topics such as mega-events and democratic mobilization in Brazil, public investment in mega-events and the legacy for the Brazilian public.  

Find out more about the conference and the different conference themes at 

Mega-events and the 'White Elephant Index'
See also the World Stadium Index for analysis on the utilization of mega-event stadiums. 

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