How Brazil Learned that the World Cup is not Just Soccer

Soccer transcends social classes and economic backgrounds. Children and teenagers everywhere in Brazil, from every class, play it. Where a ball may be improvised, there will be fun to be had.

Soccer is also one of the foundations of Brazilian patriotism, that reascends during the FIFA World Cup. The flag colors come to be worshipped, the flag itself is flown.

In 2014, however, it feels different. Slogans such as “There Will Be No World Cup” abound, there are protests and public opinion is split regarding the event’s impact. There was an open letter from those affected by the preparations and, on May 15, the Day Against the World Cup, that pushed thousands of people to the streets everywhere in Brazil.

It was a predictable result of the policies adopted in the country, that promoted the extensive use of government money and the iron hand of the state to remove people from their houses — in expropriations questionable even according to the dubious legal standards of Brazil — and build white elephants that will only be used for a short while. The greatest beneficiaries are FIFA, the contractors, allied corporations and the government itself.

To sidestep competition, according to the Letter from the First Meeting of the Affected by the World Cup, “the General Law of the World Cup establishes zones of exclusion of 1.25 miles around FIFA’s areas, stadiums, and fan areas with large screens, where only official sponsors will be allowed to sell.” Street sellers, who move billions every year, yet again, are excluded from large swathes of the cities.

One could argue we are living under a “sporting state of exception,” but it is a fact that preparations for the World Cup have amply shown the disfunctionality and injustice of the Brazilian state. There have been huge subsidies to large enterprises through state bank BNDES, and the uncompromising defense of the property of big corporations allied to the consistent neglect to the property of the poor. There has also been an irresistible impulse to control the poor’s access to land, not to mention the repression of the street sellers all over a country in which the laws claim to defend the working classes.

This sports dystopia is always the reality in the country — a reality that overwhelmingly punishes the poor — but now it seems clearer than ever because it is closely associated with one of the most important world events for the Brazilians. This state has always existed, but it now has a pretext. The soccer country has learned that Cups are not only sport. They are about money and influence, about the political means, not voluntary exchange.

There is no better illustration of the difference between the economic means (labor, production, exchange) and the political means (force, coercion), as Franz Oppenheimer put it. Another World Cup was possible, without expropriations, repression, subsidies, but it would be a World Cup without the power of the state, made by free people forgoing the use of force.

In 2007, the government stated that the World Cup would be paid for entirely by the private sector. However, that would never happen with the state we have nowadays. No company would ever take the risk of investing in a politicized World Cup like the Brazilian one. Neil Stephenson, in Snow Crash, put it like this: “[T]hat’s how the government is. It was invented to do stuff that private enterprise doesn’t bother with, which means that there’s probably no reason for it.” The government also does stuff that allows private enterprise to tilt the table in their favor.

“We hope that a shout of goal won’t suppress our story,” states the Letter from the First Meeting of the Affected by the World Cup. Should conscience win, state injustice in the name of sports can’t be forgotten.

Translated into English by Erick Vasconcelos

Translations for this article:

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory