Brazil's soccer-obsessed fans would be ecstatic if the national team known as the "Pentacampeões," or the five-time champions, won the FIFA World Cup on home soil. But this year, even though the World Cup is taking place in the country synonymous with the sport, many Brazilians are not excited about the competition.
Many Brazilians are boycotting the world's largest soccer event, and are using it as an opportunity to shine a light on some of the country's long-standing social ills. According to a survey released by the Pew Research Center, 72% of Brazilians are dissatisfied with their country.
The tournament's hefty $11 billion price tag has enraged Brazilians who believe that those state funds should have gone towards funding schools, housing, health care, transportation and other social and urban development projects, instead of new stadiums and extravagant sporting events.
The country's woes, particularly those involving heavy crime, drug rings and violence, have earned it bad press in the Western media, but perhaps with more of a concern for foreigners traveling to the games, instead of the plight of Brazilians. Either way, the bad press is surely embarrassing for a government hoping to place Brazil on the world stage. And at this point, not even national soccer pride can unite the chaotic state of the country before the opening ceremonies.
As Brazil scrambles to sweep some of its troubles under the rug ahead of the upcoming competition, here are some of the problems that could potential disrupt the international soccer fest:
1. Anti-World Cup demonstrations
Last year, at least one million protesters took to the streets on June 12 in at least 80 cities across the country, and that discontent is still brewing.
One of the popular protests slogans translates to "World Cup for Who?," hitting on the feeling of many Rio de Janeiro residents who think the event is more for tourists than actual Brazilians, according to Rio-based journalist Tariq Panja.
The protesters against the tournament include state workers, indigenous groups, slum dwellers, the homeless and the most radical element, the gang Black Bloc, consisting of lower-middle-class youth looking to use more violent protest tactics during the World Cup.
Image Credit: Getty Images. A member of the Black Bloc group.
The protests also touch on anxieties about the government's neo-liberal policies, where public funds are spent on private enterprises, like the World Cup. Thanks to neglect of public services, as well as rampant corruption, the gap has only widened between Brazil's rich and poor.
2. The unfinished stadium
The opening ceremony of the World Cup can't happen without a completed stadium. Just eight days away from its grand opening, the Itaquerao soccer stadium in São Paulo still needs more finishing touches. The bleachers and roof aren't functional, and more construction and installations are necessary to spruce up the bare façade. The government has spent billions on the World Cup development project, and the results are far from seamless.
3. Transportation woes
One of the main causes of the June 2013 protests was a hike in public transportation fares. After months of demonstrations, São Paulo and Rio authorities decided to stop transit fare hikes. According to a Pew Research Center survey, 76% of the population still disapproves of Brazil's transportation services, and most of the transportation improvement projects promised before the World Cup are still incomplete.
And the unrest continues: Bus drivers demanding higher pay recently went on strike in São Paulo, closing half of the city's bus terminals. This unleashed an overcrowding of the subway, with 300,000 people trying to commute home, and chaos ensued between angry citizens and transportation authorities. Truck drivers also protested a rise in state fines for parking outside of approved areas, and the massive vehicles blocked traffic at Brazil's southern port of Paranagua.
Approximately 3.7 million visitors are expected during the World Cup. The rise in visitors, coupled with transportation woes, is likely to spell out trouble.
4. Police strikes
While the bus drivers are still waiting for results, Brazil's federal police protests has proven more successful. The 250,000 police officers demanding higher wages received a deal for a 15.8% salary increase starting in July, to curb further protests. Not having a working police force right before the World Cup would cause a serious security threat.
The BBC reports that the police union Fenapef agreed to no longer strike during the World Cup. But bus drivers, teachers and other state workers could go on strike again.
5. Gang violence
The slums, or favelas, are commonly the site of gang fights and other violence. Since 2008 the Brazilian government has instituted a "pacification" program to secure Rio and other areas before the World Cup and also the 2016 Summer Olympics. New police posts inside of the favelas include a force of 9,000 police, and some residents have violently reacted to the increase in police presence.
6. The drug wars
Police recently clamped down on a drug ring in the slum district of Mare, which is located near the international airport. Police and Brazil's marines pushed out drug lords and gangs in the shantytown, where 130,000 people live.
Just north of the Maracana stadium in Brazil's capital city of Rio, crack addicts live in the favela of Jacarezinho, more popularly known as "cracolandia," or crackland. Brazil tops the list as the No. 1 consumer of crack in the world, and police have been combating Brazil's drug problem with raids and forced evacuations before the World Cup.
7. Forced evictions
The government has forced an estimated 250,000 families out of their homes in cities across Brazil to make more space for the World Cup events. This is mostly happening in low income housing areas and favelas near sport stadium zones. Those evicted usually struggle to find new homes, are moved to undesirable housing alternatives, are not able to negotiate with the government and do not receive proper compensation by the state.
8. Police brutality
The recent increase in police presence in the favelas has led to violent raids against criminals and clashes that have put innocent residents at risk. Brazil's cops have a reputation of using extreme force, especially against dissenters. Brazil's security forces kill an estimated 2,000 citizens each year, according to Amnesty International.
Last year, Brazil's security forces cracked down on peaceful protesters with tear gas and rubber bullets at the FIFA Confederations Cup.
9. Shutting down Brazil’s largest marketplace
The Fiera de São Joaquim market in Salvador de Bahia, frequented by the poor, has been shut down for renovation. The government also aimed to stop the crime in the market before the World Cup with a police raid against drug dealers and other criminals. The vendors and favela residents relied on the market, and now they are jobless and struggle to buy affordable groceries. For now, the World Cup stadium development leaves the market project on hold.
10. Dengue fever epidemic
The viral infection caused by a female mosquito bite has been prevalent in Brazil for some time, with an estimated 1 million cases on average every year — the most in the world. The summer months are even more mosquito-heavy, and a dengue fever outbreak has hit Brazil's largest city of São Paulo and Campinas in the southeast. City workers are scrambling to rid areas of the aedes aegypti mosquitos transmitting the disease by spraying infested areas with pesticides. Dengue could spread to tourists traveling in and out of Brazil.
11. Sex tourism
Underage prostitution has become a major issue in Brazil, where an estimated 250,000 children are sexually abused every year. Human rights organizations have found an increase in child prostitution during World Cup games in other countries like South Africa and Germany. These organizations are concerned that poor underage girls will be forced into sex from tourists on the prowl. An estimated 600,000 foreigners are headed to Brazil for the World Cup.