The (Empty) World Cup Runneth Over

An anti-government demonstrator takes part in a protest against the 2014 World Cup in Rio de Janeiro

Years past, every four years, I have been able to pretend I am more of a “proper” football fan than American football fan. This is, of course, patently false, evidenced by the quotation marks around the word “proper” and the fact that this is my first blog post about soccer. The sad reality of it is that it is not really about the game at all, but rather the unfortunate outcome for so many Brazilians.

It has barely made the mainstream media, of course. We would not want to upset investors or ruin the fun for comfortable middle class people around the world. People in the city of Rio de Janeiro, however, have been significantly less comfortable. The problems do not start with the World Cup, or end there, but they are certainly exacerbated by it. The people of all Brazil have stood up and fought as the forces of neo-liberalism have stepped up to privatize necessary services, including mass transit that was once readily available to all its citizens, including its poorest, but now cut back and now a significant financial burden to those who need it most. It makes sense really, for the bosses. A mobile population is a free one, and a free population can find opportunities beyond your near slave like labor conditions. We cannot have that now, can we.

For that reason, among others, Brazilians have been standing up to their increasingly corrupt government and the economic elite that pull the strings. They have taken to the streets, even taking over the runway at an international airport last year. They have been loud and almost impossible to ignore. Almost, because if it is one thing Western media has become very skilled at, it is ignoring the stories that matter. They focus on the pomp of the World Cup while ignoring a quarter million people being evicted. They show us pretty pictures of an equatorial paradise while just miles away people live in shanty towns larger than my home city of Rochester, NY. They tell us stories of all the development accomplished in the name of our entertainment while ignoring the real human cost of that development: the lost homes, broken backs, and broken promises.

This is nothing new. We see it, to varying degrees, every World Cup, and every time the Olympics come to a town. We see it on a smaller scale here when resources are taken from the needy to give tax breaks for major league sports teams, or when communities are torn up to make room for their stadiums. We complain about our hard-earned tax dollars going to the rich because it offends us personally but never ask who is actually suffering for it. It is not entirely our fault, they make it all so bright, loud, and shiny and oh so impossible to resist. We love to lose ourselves in the pageantry of it, the drama of the game, and the revelry of our fellow fans.

Well I cannot anymore. I will miss it. I will miss rooting for my country until they screw up and then Germany for the sake of my extended family after. I would rather miss it though, than know I am contributing to the suffering of others by giving these bastards a free pass. You may say I am ruining your fun, pointing out this injustice, asking you to stand up to it and walk away. Fair enough, but we help ruin far more: the hope for a life without deprivation and pain. I hope at least some of you join me in walking away from it, as loudly as you can, so people start paying attention to the real news out there, the news that is not so new, the news that shows how many of our brothers and sisters suffer for our entertainment.

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