Blemishing The Beautiful Game

Diego von Vocano examines the protests in Brazil – covered extensively by Dish readers here – through the evolution of its national team over the past 40 years:

In the 1980s, Socrates was one of Brazil’s best futebol (soccer) players. With flowing hair, long limbs, and often wearing a bandanna and a jersey with the word “democracia” on it, he became a leading figure of the Brazilian national team. … This was Brazilian futebol in the 1970s and 1980s: full of creativity, eccentric characters, and politically engaged soccer stars. The zeitgeist was reflected in Brazil’s World Cup teams of 1982 and 1986, which were characterized by artfulness and attacking flair.  …

At least as far back as the 1994 World Cup in the United States, Brazilian teams have slowly abandoned the jogo bonito (“beautiful game”) style of play based on refined skills and aesthetic imagination in favor of pragmatic, results-driven tactics. What does this tell us about the mass, pro-democratic protests of the last few days in Brazil?

It tells us that futebol is both a reflection and a catalyst of social change in Brazil. To see Brazilians protest against the organization of the World Cup, in a country where the sport is nearly a religion, shows us that what used to be sacred is now nearly profane. The underlying cause of this erosion of a cultural pillar is the confluence of disaffection with democratic institutions and the transformation of the national soccer culture. As Brazil’s economic growth has produced economic and political elites, there is also a growing perception that those who benefit most from soccer are corrupt CBD (Brazilian soccer federation) officials, not the average fans.

As FIFA becomes a target for protesters, Travis Waldron considers the implications for the sport worldwide:

Protesters at the Brazilian national team’s match against Mexico held signs reading, “We want hospitals, FIFA standard,” a nod to the top-notch standards FIFA requires at its World Cup soccer stadiums — 12 of which Brazil has either renovated or constructed for next summer at a cost of more than $3 billion in taxpayer funds. The protesters have remained largely nonviolent (the police, unfortunately, cannot necessarily say the same), but last night they damaged two FIFA buses with rocks outside the hotel where FIFA officials are staying. …

It is important to remember that these protests, at their root, are about Brazilians and their efforts to make their country a more equal place to live, rather than simply a sporting event. But should they continue to escalate, they could also force change in other countries at at future World Cup and Olympic sites too. Other countries that have experienced the costly effects of such events have not reacted the same way — “Brazil is saying what we could not: We don’t want these costly extravaganzas,” The Guardian’s Simon Jenkins wrote in comparing the Brazilian events to the 2012 London Olympics. But thanks to Brazilians, other governments, FIFA, and the International Olympic Committee now have the chance to learn a lesson about what can happen when entire populations are excluded from the process of bidding on, hosting, and conducting these events.