Soccer Fans Revolt: Protests Rage on in Brazil
Brazil's footballers are celebrating their advancement in the Confederations Cup, but in Fortaleza, their fans continue to protest high ticket prices, corruption and other social issues. The players are left walking a thin line.
Demonstrators threw stones at the police, and officers responded with rubber bullets and smoke bombs, as violent scenes played out on the streets of Fortaleza, Brazil on Wednesday night.
"We won't let the police get us down," said Regis, 23, an art student and protester. "We are prepared to fight for a better Brazil."
Only three kilometers (just under two miles) away, Brazil's golden boy, known simply as Neymar, would later lead his team to a convincing 2-0 win over Mexico in the Confederations Cup. The fans in the stadium celebrated, but in football-crazy Brazil, the dominant issue these days is not the strength of the national soccer team, but the ongoing street protests.
All of Brazil is in revolt, with the country seeing its largest demonstrations in 20 years. On Monday evening, more than 200,000 protesters poured into the streets of the largest cities. The Brazilian government and the international football organization FIFA fear that the protests could also spill over into the stadiums of the Confederations Cup.
Brazilian police have deployed an enormous number of officers to block off the area around the Castelão stadium in Fortaleza. Demonstrators tried in vain to get by the security forces, injuring at least five police officers with stones in the process.
In return, demonstrators faced rubber bullets, smoke bombs and pepper spray from police. "The police must protect the right of the 60,000 fans to see the game," said Cid Gomes, the governor of the Brazilian state of Ceará, of which Fortaleza is the capital. "Imagine if the demonstrators got into the stadium. That would be a tragedy."
Known for Beaches, not Protests
Fortaleza is a favorite vacation spot in Brazil. Giant high-rise hotels line up one after the other in the city, and during the high season, it is hard to see the white sand on the beach through all of the umbrellas and lounge chairs. The city is not known for having a subversive subculture. So it is noteworthy that here some 25,000 people have taken to the street to protest the costs of these large sporting events, corruption, high costs of living, and to demand a better educational system.
Some fans held up posters in the stadium shortly before the most recent game began. "It's not just about 20 Centavos, but rather billions, stolen from public funds," reads one poster that refers to the increase in bus fares in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. The rise in fares has been cancelled for now, but the protests continue.
As the national anthem is sung in the stadium, the fan with the poster puts his right hand over his heart and sings along enthusiastically. The fans make clear that their anger is not directed against their team, but rather at the government.
A Thin Line
The players on the national team, or Seleção, show solidarity with the protesters, but do not venture too far with their statements. Bayern Munich's player Dante, who, after David Luiz broke his nose in the game against Mexico, can hope at starting in the matchup against Italy, said after the game's close: "Naturally, we are following the protests. These people want to make our country better, and I hope that in the end they reach their goals."
Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari said that his players can say whatever they think, but they should also be aware of their own special responsibility. The message was clear: Don't ruin things for yourselves, either with the demonstrators, or with the government.
The players are walking a thin line. Under no circumstances does the team want to be seen as representative of the heavily criticized government. But on the other hand, the players are the protagonists of the large events at the heart of the demonstrations. "Seleção belongs to the people," said Scolari. "We are the people. We want to motivate people and to represent Brazil."
To much of the world, Brazil stands for lightness, cheerfulness, beaches and the Seleção. What the politicians have done from their lofty vantage has long played not much of a role in the lives of the people. The economic recovery of recent years has strengthened the middle class. The students from this class are no longer satisfied with fun and football. They want a political voice and to fight the corruption that is so omnipresent.
"We have seen what is possible in the Middle East," said Gabriela, 22, an architecture student and demonstrator in Fortaleza. "Why can't it work here, too?"
But to the taxi drivers, beach vendors and other local residents who live in run-down stone cottages surrounding the spectacular Castelão stadium, the protests are often not very meaningful. They would prefer to see their Seleção play in the stadium, but the high ticket prices have ensured a more timid and restrained crowd, by Brazil standards. As a result, the fans have flooded the practice sessions and cheer their players on there with songs and loud chants.
It will be noticeably quieter for the Brazilian team in Salvador da Bahia. On Thursday, the team is checking into a luxury hotel there, where 500 employees are currently on strike.
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