I haven’t been on social media yet, and I’m sure everyone’s already talking about this, but how fitting is it that the first goal of the tournament is an own goal by Brazil? I mean four goals scored by Brazil, one for the other team, perfectly illustrates Brazilian feelings about the build up to this tournament. It also perhaps sums up day one of the tournament in Rio.
Scorecard on the streets – the protests in Rio, Sao Paulo, and Natal pretty much dominated the first half. Riot police responded with tear gas and concussion grenades. The national news station Globo TV fittingly switched back between shots of the street violence and people in the fan fests, offering a perfect picture of the two Brazils we’ll see during the cup (however two Brazils is a constant theme here — even without the cup.) It seemed like the protesters had been able to make their point just when the entire world was watching.
During the morning, I had heard that traffic and supermarkets in Zona Sul were at apocalyptic slowdown levels, so I living in Zona Oeste, was worried about being able to make it to a place to watch the game in time. However by the time 3pm rolled around the streets seemed empty, and my wife and I hit the omnibus to see how far inside the city we could get. Already the city was like a ghost town, and besides one short traffic stop at São Conrado the streets were clearer than your average Monday evening. We breezed through the city, and all I could think about was how easily everything was working. It seemed that Brazil was managing this situation – without a match in the city and on a public holiday – pretty well.
To be completely honest, I couldn’t help thinking how the chaos that everyone predicted with “imagina na copa” was no where to be seen. The usually bustling entrances to Rocinha and Vidigal were empty, Leblon and Ipanema were clear, and besides a few surfers on the beach, it seemed like everyone had gone home to watch the match. Carnival was much more chaotic than this, and that happens every year. I started to think that questions of Brazil’s ability to host the cup were completely unfounded. Was this routine any different than a normal Seleçao game day? Were the Brazilian people own goaling in their fear of the country’s ability to host such a mega event?
We had gotten to Copacabana so easily that when we passed the fan fest we decided to brave it and join the throng. We got off the bus at the front gate of the official fan fest, which was also the place we had heard a protest was forming. There were plenty of riot police and helicopters, which again gave the whole scene an apocalyptic feel. It was a strange dissonance against the already inebriated fans on the beach. Porta potty lines were long, but generally people were in a festive mood.
By the time we had gotten to the fan fest the gates were closed so we opted for the overflow screen down the beach, which was also already packed out. That’s when the anti-FIFA protests rolled through, and we ended up in the middle between the fans and the protesters, with riot police lined up on the other side of the protesters. I was worried a little that the riot police were going to do something crazy, but the protest was peaceful and passed by in a calm manner. Maybe the police didn’t want to have teargas around the tourists?
You all watched the match so you already know the score on the pitch, but some interesting moments to take note. 1) When the first goal happened, Marcelo’s own goal, I was actually worried that if Brazil didn’t win, as an unexpected consequence of the over blown security, the riot police were going to turn on the fans. This added plenty of motivation for my own cheers when Neymar came through to save the day. 2) The moon rising over Copacabana beach as Brazil settled into the lead, and the crowd settled into a contented hum, was a beautiful moment. It was probably the first time I felt a part of Brazil since moving here. 3) I was amazed when a trio of older Brazilian women of different races settled in behind me and kept expressing their motherly concern over the fatigue of the players on the field. 4) Are all English fans annoying? At least the group I was standing next to was self-aware enough to repeat over and over “we’re American” and “we loooove soccer” really loud. To their credit they were probably the most diverse single crowd at the beach, simultaneously repping Jamaica, Iran, and I would assume a few other places while sporting English jerseys. 5) At the same time, in a post-9/11 world, U.S. Americans abroad have seemed to become used to hiding in plain sight. Ninety-percent of the time I would hear English in an American accent, I would look up and see a Brazilian jersey or colors (I was no exception). I get the sense that this is never something an Argentinian would do.
By the time the second wave of protests passed by the overflow screen (besides the military helicopter circling, I’m sure those inside the highly secured fan fest didn’t even notice their presence), it seemed that the protesters voices had fallen off into another moment of time. FIFA, with the help of the Seleçao, had come thru and won in the second half. However when I thought back to the empty streets, and the relatively low impact the match made on the actual functioning of the city, all the money spent on this event went into stark relief. If the action in Rio couldn’t hold a candle to the madness of Carnival, or even an average work day, why all the money and stadiums just to fill some ridiculous FIFA standard? At the end of the day the question of whether or not Brazil could handle the cup to me was answered with a resounding yes. The question of whether or not they should still remains.