World Cup Diary: Tournament has been glorious but problems persist

July 8th, 2014

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BELO HORIZONTE —

Good football, or a least a tournament with good narratives, will cover a multitude of sins. Barring something calamitous in the final week, the chaos that many had feared would characterize the World Cup has not come to pass and nor have the demonstrations against government corruption that dominated last year’s Confederations Cup.

Only Belo Horizonte, where Brazil will meet Germany in Tuesday’s semifinal, has really suffered, an overpass constructed as part of improvements in infrastructure for the World Cup collapsing onto a bus, killing two people and injuring several others. At the weekend, there were demonstrations at the offices of Construtora Cowan, the firm that built the overpass on Avenida Pedro 1, while others have visited the site of the collapse bearing placards that read, “This is the reality of the World Cup,” and “World Cup disaster: Put it on FIFA’s bill.”

Wrangles over that are ongoing. The area around the collapsed overpass has been shut off pending an investigation, with some alleging that short cuts were taken to get the structure in place in time for the World Cup. Local authorities have urged the judiciary to re-open the road in time for the semifinal to ease traffic pressure. “The work won’t be carried it in haste because of the World Cup,” said Colonel Alexandre Lucas Alves of the Civil Defense. “It can only be done when we can be sure there will be no more casualties.”

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Elsewhere, the main issues have been with the police’s habit of acting first and asking questions later. Early in the tournament, partygoers in the Rio de Janeiro district of Lapa were subjected to a baton charge and the indiscriminate use of pepper spray after spilling from bars into a pavement. Eyewitnesses said the mood was jovial and police waded in without warning.

More serious was an incident in São Paulo last week as military police used tears gas, rubber bullets and pepper spray to break up a crowd of around 500 people in Praca Roosevelt who were demonstrating against police abuses. Two lawyers, Daniel Biral and Silvia Daskal, were arrested after questioning a police officer about her lack of visible identification as she helped break up a protest. According to Amnesty International, Biral was beaten around the head in the police car on his way to São Paulo’s 78th police station and lost consciousness. On arrival, the changes against the arresting officers were ignored and only the charges against him were submitted.

Biral claims he had already been warned to stop representing protesters arrested in demonstrations in São Paulo, which have been ongoing over the past years. While visiting a protestor who had been hospitalized, Biral says he was approached by an unidentified armed man who told him to “drop [the protester’s] case; the police are right. Don’t meddle in this case. Mad men are out there with the state’s authorization, and you know that mad men shoot.” Biral and Daskal have both been charged with “contempt for authority.”

Strangely enough, however, the issue that has really dominated headlines in Brazil is the injury to Neymar. Even the Belo Horizonte newspapers on Monday struggled to stay off the topic of the stricken forward and who might replace him. Hoja en Dia was the only newspaper in the city to lead only with a story about the overpass. O Tempo went with a split front page dealing with the overpass and Neymar’s possible replacement, while Metro insisted Life Goes On and debated whether Willian or Bernard would come in for Neymar. Elsewhere, Estado de Minas led with a strange story about the increase in prostitution during the tournament and how hotels and tax-drivers were colluding in the trade, with a cartoon of “King” David Luiz and an article on his fine tournament beneath.

And it didn’t stop there.

In Outside Minas Gerais, the overpass collapse was hardly mentioned. Diario de São Paulo and Folha de São Paulo both suggested Willian is the most likely replacement for Neymar, while Lance! looked at the key player of each of the four sides left in the tournament: Arjen Robben, Thomas Muller, Lionel Messi and David Luiz, the choice of a defender for Brazil seeming significant.

And there, perhaps, is the truth of this tournament.

The widespread chaos that was widely predicted has not come to pass, while the urge to see a great festival of football has meant that the occasional incidents that have occurred have largely been overlooked. It may be that this tournament does turn out to be the propaganda coup Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s president, hoped would be.

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A recent poll put her at a 38% approval rating, up from 34% when the tournament began. Her letter to Neymar, hailing him as a hero of Brazil, may have been moving, may even have been heartfelt, but it was also an extremely smart and effective piece of campaigning.

Major incidents and police brutality are often overlooked but football takes the eye. Rousseff will probably be re-elected in October. If Brazil overcomes the loss of Neymar to go on and win the final and Rousseff can present the trophy to Thiago Silva next Sunday, she is almost certain to win.

Images provided by Getty.

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