The World Cup 2014 has finally begun in Brazil. It took seven years of preparation, including thousands of forced evictions, deaths of construction workers in stadiums and emergency laws to serve the organising body Fifa.
Inside the stadium, the opening ceremony exposed the gentrification of Brazilian football. Historically it has been a popular sport with culturally and racially diverse crowds in the stadiums. Today it is restricted to white rich and middle class people with expensive tickets.
Outside the stadium, it was marked by repression of protests against the effects of the World Cup. Foreign journalists were taken aback by the violence of the Brazilian police. They still operate with the same militarised logic they had during the dictatorship, focused on fighting an “internal enemy”.
There has been no respect for the right to protest about the World Cup in the weeks that preceded it.
An international day of struggle on 15 May called by the National Articulation of Popular Committees of World Cup (ANCOP) and social movements was violently repressed. Police have arrested activists, and pursued them and searched them in their homes.
Demilitarisation of the police has become one of the main demands of the protests and movements since the enormous protests of last summer. It has gained increasing momentum in public debate and the streets.
The ANCOP and activists will continue demonstrating throughout the event against the impact of the cup. They are raising demands for the right to the city and against the criminalisation and repression of activists, street vendors and all those who do not benefit from Fifa’s dirty business.
Other social movements brought their struggles to the streets in the run up to the World Cup.
The Homeless Workers Movement (MTST), a mass movement which struggles for housing, urban reform and right to the city, held a People’s Cup in early May.
They occupied a large abandoned lot near the stadium that hosted the World Cup opening. It was built in a neighbourhood of São Paulo where many workers live, who now suffer from land speculation and expensive rents.
The MTST took streets and avenues in São Paulo in demonstrations with more than 20,000 people. It forced the federal government to review its housing policy.
There have been strikes, especially in the public transport sector. In São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, dissident bus workers struck for better wages and conditions without the support of their unions.
It was São Paulo subway workers who led the way with a five day strike in the week preceding the cup. But the state government of São Paulo, which administers the subway, has acted with complete intransigence, relying on police brutality instead of negotiating with the union.
It has harshly repressed pickets in subway stations, firing 42 workers and threatening to lay off more 300 if the strike continued. The union is now campaigning to have all the fired workers reinstated, with the support of trade unions, labour federations, social movements and activists.
There is now a political effervescence around the World Cup that has already achieved international recognition, and which will continue for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Whatever happens, megaevents in sport will never be the same again.
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