Football Versus Freedom

After a year of massive social protest in Brazil, soccer’s governing body, FIFA, and the World Cup’s corporate sponsors are planning carefully with the government for demonstrations during the month-long tournament. Worse, a raft of proposed security legislation would almost certainly restrict freedom of assembly.

NEW YORK – Last year, Brazilian authorities were taken by surprise when a wave of protests erupted during the Confederations Cup soccer tournament, a sort of warm-up to this year’s main event, the World Cup, which will be staged in 12 cities across the country beginning in June. The protesters, complaining that the $11 billion spent on new stadiums and other World Cup-related infrastructure would be better invested in improving Brazil’s poor public services, were met with official violence. And yet the protests have continued throughout the year.

Not surprisingly, soccer’s international governing body, FIFA, and the World Cup’s corporate sponsors are worried – so worried that they and Brazilian government officials are planning carefully for protests during the month-long tournament. Worse, a raft of proposed security legislation would almost certainly restrict freedom of assembly.

The trouble with this backlash is that the World Cup is merely a focal point for a diffuse set of popular grievances concerning issues ranging from education to police corruption and abuse of power. Last June, a million people took to the streets across the country. In Brasilia, 45,000 protesters simply walked into the capital’s legislative district and stood quietly.

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