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The iconic Maracana stadium got a $500 million makeover...while within eyeshot 1.4 million live in squalor, in slums like the Metro-Mangueira favela.
Lalo de Almeida—Sports Illustrated

If there are two Brazils, then one of them is here, in a café by the Praça São Salvador, a few blocks from the beach in Rio de Janeiro. Wearing a gray T-shirt, sunglasses and a ring in the shape of a human skull, Alan Fragoso, 27, takes a sip of his caipirinha. Fragoso used to be a sort of Brazilian Don Draper, an advertising man selling products to the nation’s emerging consumer class. Then one day he quit. “What I really want is to work with projects I believe in,” he says, “not to invest in consumption.”

So Fragoso joined a startup that took off faster than Facebook: the Brazilian protest movement. The demonstrations in June began small (and largely nonviolent), in response to a hike in public-transportation fees. But the military police overreacted, using tear gas, rubber bullets and excessive force in front of news cameras that spread the images countrywide. That sparked mass protests over a litany of grievances: government corruption, substandard education and health care, the forced removal of favela (or slum) dwellers and the $22.8 billion in public spending on facilities for the World Cup in 12 Brazilian cities and for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. On June 20, on what he calls “the best political day of my life,” Fragoso joined more than 1.5 million angry demonstrators who marched in the streets of Rio, São Paulo and 80 other cities around the country.

The protests coincided with the Confederations Cup, a World Cup dress rehearsal, and 10 days later, on the day of the final between Brazil and Spain, Fragoso advanced with another group of roughly 5,000 protesters toward Rio’s legendary Maracanã Stadium. “The demonstrators outside the stadium were surrounded and bombarded with tear gas and rubber bullets,” says Fragoso, who donned a gas mask on some days and covered his face with a vinegar-soaked bandanna on others to combat the fumes. “Even though we were far away, the smell of the tear gas reached inside the Maracanã.”

Nobody knows if the million-strong protests (which led to six deaths) will recur when the World Cup kicks off in São Paulo on June 12. The demonstrations since last June have been smaller and at times violent, pitting Black Bloc anarchists against the police. But now, less than three months before the World Cup, Fragoso is hoping to go mainstream again: 64 games, 64 protests. As he talks about this in the café, a middle-aged stranger walks over. He has been eavesdropping, and he wants to say one thing as he leaves, a slogan that has become fashionable among young activists: “Não vai ter Copa do Mundo no Brasil!”

There won’t be a World Cup in Brazil.

Old Anthem, New Meaning

The other Brazil is here, at a beach vacation hotel in the northeastern state of Bahia, where the burgeoning middle and upper-middle classes are spending more and more of their leisure time and disposable income. One night, two guests from the U.S. arrive at the giant main dining hall carrying an Adidas Brazuca, the just-released official game ball of World Cup 2014. It’s a gorgeous orb, bathed in swirls of blue, green and orange, and you realize instantly why Brazil is the spiritual home of football.

The ball is a celebrity. Everyone wants to have a picture taken with it: mothers carrying babies, fathers with their 10-year-old sons, a gaggle of girls who can’t stop giggling. The dining-room workers also stop by to pose with the Brazuca, holding it like a close friend. A chef in an oversize toque hams it up and pretends he’s dancing with the ball. When the Americans take the ball the following day on a tour of the World Cup stadium in the nearby city of Salvador, the grounds-crew workers are smitten. They treat it like an A-lister, gathering around it for a group photo. An impromptu kick-about with the Brazuca in a city plaza nearly causes a small riot among the children there.

World Cup organizers point out that Brazilian fans have applied for tickets in huge numbers—7 million applications so far to fill about 3 million seats, according to FIFA—and say most Brazilians are in favor of the country hosting the tournament. “There’s some fear or concern that government and political parties maybe benefited from the whole World Cup project, and there’s a pessimistic attitude from some citizens,” says Aldo Rebelo, Brazil’s Sports Minister, “but the vast majority think that the World Cup and the Olympics are very good for the country.”

If you ask Brazilians what will happen at the World Cup, be prepared for an array of answers. “Brazil is bipolar,” says Mauricio Savarese, a São Paulo–based journalist who focuses on politics and sports. “You can find people who are very, very enthusiastic. Or people who are very, very pessimistic.” Savarese expects a few protests, some of them violent, but he doubts they will reach the critical mass of last June. Nor does he—or anyone else—think, protest slogans aside, there’s a chance the Cup won’t happen in Brazil. “I think there is going to be a World Cup bubble, and everything is going to work reasonably well,” he says. “So in the end people are going to say, ‘Well, that wasn’t so terrible.’ It will help all the politicians who didn’t do an all-that-terrible job. It’s going to look as if they did a better job than they actually did.”

But Juca Kfouri, the dean of Brazilian sports journalists, argues that while the mood inside the stadiums will be joyous, on the streets it will be even more aggressive and chaotic than during the June protests. The reason, he says, is simple enough: most of the public’s demands haven’t been met, and that will be especially galling after Brazil succeeded in building world-class stadiums that far exceed the standards of the country’s hospitals, schools and transportation system.

Which brings us to the question: How do you reconcile the two Brazils? Perhaps it’s impossible. But Kfouri is convinced that the national team has the power to bridge the divide, to unite those inside the stadium with those who will protest outside it. Now 63, he was jailed during college for working in a clandestine group that resisted Brazil’s military dictators, who ruled from 1964 to ’85. Says Kfouri: “I would tell my classmates, ‘The dictatorship has robbed me of many things: my freedom, my ability to criticize and vote. I won’t allow it to steal my emotions. When the national anthem is played, it’s not the dictatorship’s anthem, it’s the anthem of my country. When my team plays, it’s my team, not the dictatorship’s.’”

As tensions roiled in the streets in June, a fascinating thing happened whenever the Seleção played in the Confederations Cup, most strikingly before the final against favored Spain. The Brazilian national anthem has two verses, but before games only one of the verses is played, instrumentally, on stadium loudspeakers. When the music finished, though, the sold-out stadium joined the Brazilian players in belting out the second verse a cappella, with an energy that felt as though it might blow the roof off the building:

But if you raise the strong gavel of justice,
You will see that a son of yours does
not flee from battle,
Nor does he who loves you fear his
own death.

“There are things you feel, that you pick up in the air,” says Kfouri. “You hear it, and you have goose bumps. The Brazilian national anthem was the fuel in the stadium. This was a way to show solidarity with the demonstrators in the street, not opposition to them. The two things [patriotism and protest] are perfectly compatible.”

Ridiculed for its poor performances before the tournament, Brazil went ahead in the second minute of the final—the third time in five games that it had scored in the opening 10 minutes. Star forward Neymar, who had thanked the protesters for inspiring him, was brilliant once again, adding his fourth goal of the tournament just before halftime and leaping into the delirious crowd afterward. The Brazilians wiped out the reigning World Cup champions 3-0 for the title, and more than one media account suggested that the first goal had come during the soul-stirring people’s rendition of the anthem.

“The anthem had lost a bit of its importance as a national symbol because it was very much connected to the dictatorship,” says Maurício Barros, editorial director of the football magazine Placar. “We had never experienced anything similar to what happened at the Confederations Cup. We took back our national symbols.”

Broken Promises

In their surprise over last year’s historic demonstrations, the Brazilian government and FIFA failed to grasp an important truth: it’s possible for Brazilians to love their country, football and the World Cup while still protesting the organization of the 2014 tournament. Winning the right to host the World Cup and the Olympics was supposed to accelerate the government’s $400 billion plan to overhaul the nation’s airports, roads, subways and urban bus systems. But of the 49 transportation projects planned for completion by this summer, more than a quarter have been delayed, canceled or reduced in scope.

President Dilma Rousseff promised that a bullet train linking Rio and São Paulo (and their airports) would be running in time for the World Cup, but construction has yet to start. And seven years after Brazil learned it would be hosting the tournament, tenders for renovations to major airports did not go out until this month. In mid-February, FIFA had to schedule a press conference to reassure fans that the World Cup venue in Curitiba would not be removed from the tournament despite its lengthy construction delays. In Rio and São Paulo, government efforts to pacify the favelas in the interest of safety have mostly been supported by the public. But the main legacy projects of the World Cup will have little to do with infrastructure; they will be, almost exclusively, the 12 shiny stadiums.

Juliano Belletti, a right back who helped win World Cup 2002 for Brazil, shakes his head as he describes the situation. “When the World Cup was given to Brazil, the people said our expectation was to improve many things in the cities, not just stadiums: hospitals, streets, transport,” says Belletti, who now covers football for the Globo TV network. “For now: zero. Just these stadiums. I wasn’t surprised.”

FIFA required only eight World Cup stadiums, but Brazil chose to use 12, for two reasons. One, it’s alleged, had to do with politics: the party of Rousseff and then-President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva wanted to reward as many loyal members as possible in their home states, which included choosing Manaus (which is isolated in the middle of the Amazon rainforest) over Belém and Curitiba over Florianópolis. The other factor was tourism: the government wanted to expose World Cup visitors to as many cities as possible in a country that isn’t among the top 20 most visited in the world. Despite costing $4 billion in public money, stadium construction and renovation hasn’t gone smoothly: six of the new or improved facilities were not delivered on time, and six workers have died in accidents, three of them in Manaus and two in São Paulo. Then there are the white elephants. After the World Cup is over, what will happen to the stadiums in Manaus (capacity: 42,374), Brasília (68,009) and Natal (42,086), none of which have teams in the top flight of Brazilian club football?

Christopher Gaffney, a visiting professor of architecture and urbanism at Rio’s Fluminense Federal University, is a U.S. citizen who has spent the past five years in Brazil studying World Cup preparations and ways in which cultural memory could be preserved in the new stadiums. “The more the people look, they see how rotten it is,” Gaffney says. “They’re seeing these promises aren’t being fulfilled, and now they can’t even afford to go to a [Brazilian club] game because the prices have increased 50% this year. They’re the most expensive tickets in the world relative to minimum wage. It cost [$105] for the cheapest ticket to the Brazilian Cup final. Minimum wage for a month is [$290].”

Brazilians may have taken back their national anthem, but another collective symbol, the Maracanã, has been privatized in the buildup to the World Cup. If Brazil is the spiritual home of world football, the Maracanã is the spiritual home of Brazilian futebol. Built for the 1950 World Cup, it was the largest stadium in the world at the time, with standing-room-only concrete terraces that welcomed young and old, rich and poor, including masses of working-class fans. A crowd of more than 203,000 reportedly crammed into the Maracanã for the 1950 final between Brazil and Uruguay, in which a tie was all the Seleção needed to clinch its first World Cup title. Brazil’s notorious 2-1 defeat remains a national scar to this day, yet through the decades, the old concrete hulk became known more as a grand meeting place, a stage for some of the greatest players in history: Pelé, Garrincha, Carlos Alberto, Zico, Sócrates, Romário, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Rivaldo and all the rest.

Gustavo Mehl, a 30-year-old social activist and fan of the Rio club Vasco da Gama, lives in the shadow of the Maracanã. He grew up attending games there with his father, standing on the terraces and participating in the raucous supporter culture, with its giant flags and booming drums, its catchy songs and distinctly Brazilian group choreography. “The Maracanã was a symbol of public participation in Rio,” says Mehl. “It was the most democratic space of the city.” But the new Maracanã isn’t the same, he notes. It’s far more expensive, limiting access for poorer fans, and the new operators’ desire for “more civilized” fan behavior has changed the experience. “This new Maracanã culturally murders our way of cheering,” Mehl says. “When you are in a movement that questions the World Cup and you are a football fan, it’s a contradiction. But actually, because I am a fan of football, I am even more determined to question the World Cup.”

Clearing Away the Past

Nobody disputes that the world cup stadiums are changing the face of day-to-day Brazilian club football. The state-of-the-art facilities would be the envy of many top clubs in Italy, Spain and even England. Just a few years after the Maracanã was revamped for the 2007 Pan American Games, it underwent a complete overhaul for the World Cup that cost $500 million in public money. The outer shell was kept intact as a registered national monument, but everything inside is new, including FIFA-required seats for all spectators. The entire site was then privatized in a 35-year lease to a consortium led by the giant Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht.

Gaffney says organizers could have spent a fifth of the amount by simply changing the field drainage and installing new seats and luxury boxes. “But the way they did it was the most invasive, destructive and expensive way possible,” he argues, adding that officials tried to remove Brazil’s first Indian museum, which is part of the stadium site. “They also destroyed one on-site Olympic sports facility [a running track] that had been renovated for the Pan American Games in a city that’s now going to host the Olympics, and they threatened to destroy one of the best public schools,” which is adjacent to the Maracanã. Only after June’s protests were the Indian museum and school saved.

Progress, of course, is in the eye of the beholder. Sinval Andrade, a vice president of the Maracanã, says the increased comfort and safety will allow women, children and seniors to come to the stadium in greater numbers. The Rio club Fluminense has committed to a long-term deal to play in the new Maracanã, and three other teams that use the stadium—Flamengo, Botafogo and Vasco—may follow. Prices have risen, Andrade concedes, but season-ticket holders and members of the supporters’ group get discounts. Yes, there have been conflicts between fans who stand and those who sit, but those problems are being ironed out. “The traditional fan is not missing out on his way of cheering,” he says. “This is a cultural process. As time passes, certain sections will be identified where people prefer to watch sitting down and adhering to the numbers on the seat. In other sections we will have to be more flexible, so as not to break the Brazilian fans’ spontaneity and party-like atmosphere. We cannot stop that.”

Yet Rebelo, Brazil’s Sports Minister, sounds downright wistful when talking about what was lost from the old Maracanã, which he first visited in the 1970s. A former Communist Party Congressman, Rebelo often played in weekend pickup games organized by Lula at the presidential palace in Brasília. “The Maracanã used to be the soul of Brazil,” he says. “You had luxury boxes for the rich, and you had the bleachers for the poor, who would watch games standing up. But that Maracanã is gone. Fans can’t be as close to their teams when their teams are objects, manipulated by the market. There’s a great risk that the market will eliminate the enchantment football holds for the people.”

Demanding Better

Looming high above Rio de Janeiro, not far from the famous statue of Christ the Redeemer, Santa Marta is one of the city’s oldest favelas, a place so rich in history, grit and spectacular views that Michael Jackson filmed the video for “They Don’t Care About Us” here with Spike Lee in 1996. Vitor Lira lives at the peak of Santa Marta, representing the fourth generation of a family that settled in the favela in the 1930s. Santa Marta was one of the first favelas to be overhauled by Rio’s massive urban-pacification project, which re­asserted state control over slums that had often been run by drug gangs. Many of the housing structures in these favelas were originally improvised from brick, wood and cinder blocks; their water and electricity were sometimes appropriated from municipal lines. But the state has recently taken back control over these utilities, and now, Lira and many of Santa Marta’s 6,000 residents are being threatened with forced removal by the city. Among the relocation plans, the small favela of Metrô-Mangueira, for one, is being demolished to make room for a Maracanã parking lot.

“I am in the streets every day resisting the expulsion of the residents of our favela,” Lira says one day at a protest rally in downtown Rio. “The people most affected [by the World Cup and the Olympics] are black, poor and favela dwellers. The megaevents are very bad for us living in favelas and the city as a whole, because the poor person is not being served or involved in this economic development and promise of legacy. We are being expelled.”

World Cup organizers are quick to say no Brazilian homes were destroyed in the building or refurbishing of the tournament’s 12 stadiums. But each venue city signed a “responsibility matrix” with FIFA, promising to deliver urban projects—in health care, education, highways, ports—that, as Gaffney notes, have already uprooted tens of thousands of people from their homes in Porto Alegre, Recife and São Paulo. Renato Cosentino, an activist with the Rio watchdog group Global Justice, says officials have threatened Lira with removal because his family lives in “a risky area” of Santa Marta, but he doesn’t buy that explanation. “In Rio alone, 65,000 have already lost their dwellings, according to data from city hall itself,” says Cosentino. “People are losing their houses in ridiculous programs with incentives like [$1,250] for the house, with which you can’t buy anything.” (There is no official or standard rate for incentives.)

Lira estimates that more than half of Santa Marta’s population marched in Brazil’s nationwide protest in June. Since then, he’s joined the Popular Committee of the World Cup and Olympics, a Rio group that has continued organizing public events. It staged a “World Cup for Uprooted People,” a football tournament among favelas threatened with removals, and on the day of the World Cup draw in December, it held an “antidraw” with marked cards outside the Maracanã. “The winners were the contractors, the World Cup sponsors, FIFA and the government,” says Mario Campagnani, another member of the Popular Committee. “On the losing side were the facilities in the Maracanã complex and the people being expelled.”

In the big picture, though, despite the public unrest, the nation’s Sports Minister thinks there’s a reason Brazil was awarded the World Cup and the Olympics two years apart. “What was the world saying?” asks Rebelo. “I think it was basically saying that a country that today has the sixth largest economy in the world, that has been acting in a balanced manner when it comes to the economy, democracy and international policies, has what it takes to host a World Cup and Olympics—not only when it comes to material matters but also to spiritual ones.”

What will we end up remembering most from World Cup 2014? A fantastic trophy-winning goal by Neymar, Argentina’s Lionel Messi or Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo? A nonstop party in the land that gave us the beautiful game? Or another round of mass protests from a restive populace? June’s demonstrations showed the world that Brazil is a more complex place than most of us had imagined.

“The outside world regards Brazil as a country that demands little, the country of Carnaval, beautiful women, beaches and football,” says Kfouri. “But the truth of the matter is that in the past 30 years very few countries have had the demonstrations we’ve had here. Brazil is not that cordial figure that it is believed to be. We are hospitable. We like to party. But we make demands.”

In other words, there are two Brazils. As the freighted month of June approaches again, how they interact will be as compelling as anything that takes place on a football field.

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