Brazil: Falling out with football




There’s rich, there’s chemistry-teacher-turned-drug-dealer rich, and just below that, there’s sports star rich. The national team’s great hope, twenty-two year old Neymar Júnior, earns 7,000,000 euros a year, which is quite a bit more than 4000 euros: Brazil’s average yearly salary. In fact – Godspeed you, Maths GCSE! – it’d take the average Brazilian just under two millennia to earn the same. By any estimate, that isn’t bad for a ball game.

I watch football like everyone else: hoping on an England victory, sinking into despair, blaming foreigners, etc. And I’m not alone – an estimated 3 billion will tune into the World Cup this June, with hundreds of thousands showing up in person. Aside from the obvious benefits to pick-pocketing and prostitution, it should make Brazil millions, which you might’ve thought the country would be pleased about. Not so fast, Columbo. According to my vast knowledge of Brazilian culture (three Portuguese lessons), not everyone’s so hot on corporate spending. The 2014 World Cup is expected to top its budget by $10 billion, and that’s before we even mention the Olympics. It’s enough to make you rankle when you’re living on the breadline, or your house has just been razed as part of city clean-up projects.

There’s problems, then. In February this year, police were required to defend President Rousseff’s Brasilia office from protesters. Scores have been killed in host-city riots, while low standards of elfensafety lead to regular injuries in construction. This hasn’t been much reported in the British media (I blame Rupert Murdoch’s lizard family, but insert your own conspiracy) and, like the 2012 Mexico City Demonstrations, major targets include corporate greed, economic disparity, and political corruption. A significant number of Brazilians have become disillusioned with sport: many claim they’ll refuse to watch the World Cup, on the principle that you don’t give money to people who have nicked your home.

And it isn’t just politicians who are in for a ride. Former heroes, Ronaldo for example – fat, balding, not (yet) to be confused with Cristiano – has come in for a drubbing. See also Pelé, greatest footballer of all time, UNICEF ambassador and him off the Emirates ad – he’s had effigies burned, too.

It’s easy to say the mega-rich are out of touch, and Lord knows it’s true. But in a country whose economic disparity is so high (the richest 1% hold a tenth of all household income), even Neymar, Ronaldo, and Pelé had better be careful. It’s healthy to be hated by your rivals, but when your own supporters start to turn, that’s when you should maybe start to listen.