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Football Fury

PARIS – Who would have thought it? There they were, Brazilians, protesting outside football stadiums against their country hosting the World Cup in 2014 – and this even as their national team was thrashing Spain in the final of the Confederations Cup. It was as if Catholics were to protest outside the Vatican against picking a new Pope.

What cuisine is to the French, soccer is to Brazilians: a matter of the highest national pride. Regardless of their economic, racial, or political differences, all Brazilians are uplifted by having the best team in the world, winning the World Cup many times, and inventing and reinventing “the beautiful game.” Staging the next World Cup in Brazil, as well as the Olympic Games in 2016, even though the football tournament alone will cost up to $13 billion, seems a logical move. Rio de Janeiro is where soccer belongs.

So what possessed the 19-year-old Brazilian male who told reporters: “We don’t need the World Cup. We need education, better health services, more humane police.” Many people feel the same way. Have millions of Brazilians suddenly lost their passion for the game?

If so, it is not the game itself that they have forsaken, but rather the kind of game that football has become: a billion-dollar business, a prestige object for louche plutocrats, and an extravagant showpiece for corrupt governments and international sporting organizations.