After living in Brazil for over a year, I’ve had mixed feelings on the arrival of the World Cup. With the country’s devastating loss to Germany earlier this month, those feelings have been considerably mixed even more. On the one hand, these events bring an incredible amount of human suffering. Lawless land evictions, copious amounts of public spending on stadiums, the bogart of FIFA sponsors on the local economy, have all sat uneasily with me. But as a visitor in a place where the sport of soccer is revered nearly as a religion, it would be elitist to impose my beliefs on something happening to a country that isn’t mine.
I first speak with the man that delivers the water around my apartment and thinks I’m Japanese (even after I told him I was Taiwanese-American). He dons a dark pair of shades and a thick silver chain while handing out flyers to his YouTube channel where he can be seen doing skits in a giant baby diaper. His name is Djalma Olega Rio Silva Filho, though he calls himself “My Brother Crazy.” Nearly every time I see him, he says “Konichiwa” and “Ohayou” while dipping in a slight Buddhist bow. It put me off at first, but after getting to know him, I realize it’s harmless. Plus I think he has a genuine interest in Japanese culture. Either way, he’s an interesting character, to say the least.
“I think our country is really invested in football and forgets about the more important things,” says Filho. “It forgets about the hospitals, the teachers, the police too; they earn very little. It creates a great state pyramid structure, and forgets about things that are currently a mess.”
I’m a bit surprised to hear this from “My Brother Crazy” since he’s kind of the stereotypical guy that’s decked out in the home-team colors and spilling beer everywhere anytime his team scores. I guess I made the mistake of assuming football fans to be one-dimensional.
“I watch the Cup because I have the spirit of a Brazilian,” Filho continues. “The Cup and FIFA have nothing to do with our culture. I love the Cup because I love football, but there needs to be more care to the people. There needs to be a better vision.”
The next person I speak with is Thiago Salinas, a good friend I met training at a local Jiu-Jitsu academy. On the surface, Salinas doesn’t have the same spectrum of color as “My Brother Crazy,” but he’s an intelligent fellow and is one hell of a fighter. He works as a capital market analyst while running an event planning business with his fiancée and part-timing it as a talented photographer. When I write that all out, I realize he’s a pretty complex person in his own regard.
“The World Cup was a success in terms of organization and hosting the games, but there are things surrounding the event that worries me a lot, like all that violence in the strikes and general protests,” says Salinas. “The riot police here in Brazil are very tough. They are hurting people, and some people are hurting the riot police.”
It is no mystery that Brazil has suffered its fair share of violence from all the social consequences of the World Cup. Every major media outlet has discussed the issue in depth. Some feared that a World Cup win would justify all the actions taken for the games to take place, and blind people to the political underpinnings. A loss, presumably, would have the opposite effect.
“Politically and socially it’s good that Brazil lost, because football is the opiate of the people,” comments Filho. “The government uses these international events to mask their trickery and corruption, and I think it was great that they lost, for the people to wake up.”
Salinas, on the other hand, holds a different opinion.
“The loss to Germany shouldn’t make a difference,” Salinas says. “I’ll give you a practical example: In 1994, Brazil won the Cup and Fernando Cardoso from the social democratic party was elected. We lost in 1998 and the same party stayed in power. Then in 2002, Brazil won again and Lula, which was from the labor party, came to power. So I see no direct correlation.”
I echo the words of my other interviewee to Salinas and ask if he feels such a dramatic loss would call more attention to the nation’s social issues, maybe even enact a change.
“The loss woke people up in some sense, but we will forget this very soon,” Salinas replies. “You keep that in mind. People are trying to blame [the issues] on somebody, but that being said, they will forget and nothing will change.”
What I’ve come to realize is that this year’s World Cup occurred in a place of passionate and compassionate people. Here, soccer is akin to life, and almost any adjustments will be made in order for it to survive. At the same time, I’ve found Brazilians to be incredibly empathetic to the circumstances of others. There is a very true and real conflict existing in the heart of Brazilians, and only time will tell what will evolve from all that has happened this past month.
At the end of the day, the Word Cup in Brazil is symbolic of what I’ve always guessed to be true about the world: Life exists within paradoxes and it takes a hell of a lot to change things.