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World Cup deserters gaze homeward as games advance in Brazil

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image Anti-World Cup demonstrators march to Maracana stadium during the World Cup in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Mariana Veloso helped bring Rio de Janeiro to a halt last year by joining hundreds of thousands opposing the World Cup. The event survived the unrest and this year she traveled to enemy soccer territory, neighboring Argentina, to distance herself from what she views as a waste of money and source of corruption. Like other deserters, she found herself unable to block out the games.
“Even though I’m against the World Cup, it was impossible to not root for Brazil, especially in a place where people wanted us to lose,” Veloso, 29, said by phone. “It gave me a sense of longing and patriotism, even if a kind of crippled patriotism. I had to root for my team, for my country.”
The self-exile of many protesters during the World Cup results from a sense of resignation that the games would in fact proceed and fear of police repression. Their stories help explain how a tournament many expected to hobble the country with unrest and gridlock has run smoothly. Demonstrators at protests have numbered in the hundreds, rather than the tens of thousands seen last year.
Graffiti in Sao Paulo captures the sentiment: it shows ordinary Brazilians gathered to see a match and, behind them, a protester also looking on. Several hundred people who marched along the road in front of the FIFA Fan Fest in Copacabana disbursed when Brazil’s team started its June 23 match, Folha de S. Paulo reported.
Carlos Chaves, 20, has participated in many of the protests and fled the tournament with fear of disorder. The aspiring sports journalist passed on offers to work at the Fan Fest and as a fixer for a TV network. He has been selling Brazilian acai smoothies at a music festival in California, where he can’t help but watch the games, despite ideological opposition to soccer’s governing body FIFA.
“A civil war isn’t happening because the government put so much power in the streets, so the protests just slowed down,” Chaves said. “It’s hard to keep going to the street with so much repression.”
Tourists to Brazil spent USD365 million from June 1 to 18, equal to one-third the amount spent by Brazilian tourists abroad in the same period, Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo said in Rio, citing central bank data.
Last year’s protests drew more than a million people to the streets. As they progressed, participants were deterred by the violence and vandalism of smaller factions and the perceived heavy-handedness of security forces. About 150,000 police and military personnel and 20,000 private security guards are staffing this year’s monthlong tournament.
Still, the world’s most-watched sports event has seen its share of incidents. Military police deployed pepper spray on Rio protesters who marched against the World Cup in the Lapa historical district the day it kicked off, according to the police’s press office. As the Maracana stadium hosted its first tournament game, protesters nearby clashed with officers, and two discharged live rounds, the police said. A subway strike in Sao Paulo ahead of the first match trapped FIFA officials in traffic.
Hosting the Cup is a bad thing because it takes money from schools, health, and other public services, according to 61 percent of Brazilians polled by the Pew Research Center. The survey of 1,003 people from April 10-30 had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.8 percentage points. The cost of hosting the monthlong tournament is about $11 billion.
“We Brazilians scored against pessimism and those pessimists who thought there wouldn’t be a Cup,” President Dilma Rousseff said in Brasilia on June 24. “Brazil is dressed up in green and yellow; the idea there wouldn’t be a Cup has been buried.”
Pessimists “systematically lied” about how prepared the country was to host the event, Rousseff said today in Bahia state. The fact the tournament is running smoothly takes nothing away from grievances Brazilians have aired since last year, and it remains a symbol of misguided government priorities, according to Carla Dauden, a Brazilian who lives in Los Angeles. Dauden, 24, became the face of last year’s protests after her YouTube video - titled “No, I’m not going to the World Cup” - went viral, garnering 4 million views.
Dauden did come to Brazil, in the end, to make a documentary about citizens during and after the tournament. The roughly 100 people she has interviewed in four host cities are torn, and try to compartmentalize their objections to hosting so that they can root for their team, she said by phone.
“I’m sad because the sport is good, and the whole thing behind it - unifying people and bringing different cultures together - I think that’s wonderful,” she said on Brazil’s last match day. “I woke up sad today because it seems like Brazil and FIFA took that away from me, that cheer.”
The countless television programs Veloso saw in Argentina spotlighting her homeland, along with foreigners praising it, also left her feeling ‘saudade’ -- a Brazilian word for longing. Having returned to Rio, she won’t attend any street viewing parties nor join her friends at bars. Instead, she will watch the games at home.
“Brazil is the master of pretending that everything is fine when the whole world is watching,” she said. Bloomberg

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