Protests in Brazil over the past week have turned violent and the games of FIFA’s Confederations Cup have become a flashpoint for controversy. FIFA has denied that the Confed Cup could be canceled as a result of the protests, but there are now serious questions about country’s ability to host and offer security for a major international sporting event.
An estimated 1 million people marched in Brazil’s streets on Thursday and while most of the demonstrations were peaceful, pockets of violence did erupt around the nation. The protests are considered the worst the country has seen since the fall of the military dictatorship in 1985.
Demonstrations have coalesced around the Confederations Cup, which will finish group stage play this weekend. Before Thursday’s matchup between Spain and Tahiti, police and protesters clashed, with tear gas and rubber bullets being fired into the crowd.
In Brasilia protesters smashed a window at the Foreign Ministry and set fires on the Congressional Mall, and crowds actually attempted to take control of the Congressional Building.
The protesters are objecting to worsening local conditions and increases in bus and subway fares in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. But attention has become focused on the FIFA event because the country is in the midst of spending a minimum of $13.3 billion on stadiums, airport renovations and other projects for the 2014 World Cup. An estimated $3.5 billion will be spent on venues alone. Meanwhile, poverty is rampant and basic services are not being provided for the people.
One banner outside Maracana Stadium in Rio on Thursday read, “We want hospitals and schools, not FIFA.”
In addition to the 2014 World Cup, Rio will host the 2016 Summer Olympics, which will only increase the amount of money the country spends on sporting events.
If the Confederations Cup is causing demonstrations of this magnitude, the feeling is the World Cup and Olympics could turn into an unmitigated disaster. As of now there is almost no confidence that Brazilian officials can provide security for athletes.
FIFA officials aren’t blind to what is going on, and rumors are that they are having serious internal discussions about whether or not actually staging the 2014 World Cup in Brazil is even doable.
As for now the Confederations Cup will continue. But if things get any worse, don’t be surprised if that changes as well.