The forecast for the World Cup, set for Brazil in just over six months, is cloudy with a chance of shambles. In an interview with a Swiss newspaper over the weekend, FIFA President Sepp Blatter said Brazil was “the country furthest behind since I’ve been at FIFA.” Only six of the 12 stadiums scheduled to host World Cup games have been completed. On Wednesday officials in Brazil acknowledged that at least one of the train lines that was supposed to be finished for the World Cup would not be ready.
Asked about the protests which occurred throughout last summer’s Confederations Cup Tournament, also in Brazil, Blatter said “The football will be protected. I believe the Brazilians won’t attack the football directly. Because for them, it’s a religion.”
In order to insure that Mr. Blatter is right, the Brazilian government has created what’s been described as an elite riot force of ten thousand men. The authorities have also said they will provide one police officer for every fifty people attending the games, and one for every eighty people “at large public viewing events.”
People who’ve bought tickets may find that news reassuring. Most Brazilians may not. According to reports from the Confederations Cup, police used tear gas and fired rubber bullets into nonviolent protests. One newspaper in Brasilia described the scene as “Fiesta inside the stadium…war outside.” Citizens who’d gathered in relatively modest numbers to protest bus fare hikes and expenditures on soccer venues rather than health care, roads, and schools saw their ranks swell when police brutality was added to the list of grievances. What’s the likelihood that those ten thousand special operatives will be armed with patience, tolerance, and restraint in addition to tear gas and rubber bullets?
President Blatter may be right in asserting that for Brazilians, soccer is a religion, and that citizens in Rio, Brasilia, and elsewhere will not attack the games directly, but that assertion suggests that perhaps he doesn’t care what happens in the street as long as the games go on and FIFA’s money rolls in, and that he is willfully blind to what concerns Brazilians beyond their enthusiasm for soccer. When he stepped to the podium last June during the opening ceremony of the Confederations Cup, Blatter, the face of FIFA, was booed by that crowd for whom soccer is a religion. Could he have failed to notice the placards that read “There will be no World Cup?”