Is Fear of Violence Taking the Spotlight Away from the World Cup?

Robbie Blakeley@@rio_robbieSpecial to Bleacher ReportApril 3, 2014

Masked demonstrators set fire to a jersey with the colors of Brazilian national soccer team during protest against the World Cup 2014, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, March 27, 2014. Demonstrators call for better schools, health care, questioning the billions spent to host this year's World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
Leo Correa

Fear is dominating the agenda in Brazil during the final countdown to this summer's World Cup. Last week, the proposed FIFA Fan Fest site in the north-eastern city of Recife was cancelled (link in Portuguese) by city governors due to concerns of protests and violence during the month-long tournament.

It is a great shame to deprive so many of a communal viewing spot. Unfortunately, it's a tale that is none too surprising as kick-off approaches in what one would have hoped to be one of the most anticipated competitions in football history.

The greatest prize in the game, returning to the greatest country to have participated. Brazil are five-time world champions, but they are desperate to lift that golden trophy on home soil—at Rio's iconic Maracana Stadium.

Yet for over a year the narrative of the plot has been slowly changing. What was once a source of pride is becoming a sore spot of shame for a people growing disenchanted with the idea of hosting the event.

Tuesday was April Fool's Day. The sports news on Brazilian television carried 10 items that had been told to the people about the World Cup, which have since turned out to be false.

Brazilians were outspoken in their criticism of the government during the Confederations Cup
Brazilians were outspoken in their criticism of the government during the Confederations CupRonald Martinez/Getty Images
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The prime focus was public spending. When Brazil were awarded the World Cup in 2007, then-president Lula promised public money would not be used (link in Portuguese) to build stadiums. 

Two months before the opening ceremony, at least 60 percent of funding for arenas has come from the public purse, as revealed by Veja magazine (link in Portuguese).

It has caused fury. Hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets in protest, most prominently during last summer's Confederations Cup, where clashes between citizens and police made headlines worldwide.

The Confederations Cup is a dress rehearsal for the main event, a checking point to see what needs to be ironed out before millions descend on a host country for the World Cup.

There is a growing fear in Brazil that last year's tournament could also have been used as a dress rehearsal for protesters, as FIFA orders Brazil to ensure demonstrations are kept under control, as reported by Reuters.

Here in Rio de Janeiro, violence in favela communities has been made globally famous by films such as City of God and Elite Squad. The threat of violence is not confined to the hilltops as groups prepare to showcase their disapproval during the World Cup.

Protests and fierce clampdowns by police are stealing headlines from the sporting spectacle of the World Cup. The tragic death of a cameraman in February at Rio's Central do Brasil train station, during a protest against an increase in bus fares, has led to further anger and recriminations.

People are getting tired of escalating costs in exchange for mediocre and at times downright poor service.

There have also been clashes in the favelas. The UPP pacification points have not been enough to quell gang violence in some communities.

The protests at Rio's Central train station, where cameraman Santiago Andrade was killed
The protests at Rio's Central train station, where cameraman Santiago Andrade was killedLeo Correa

This week, the army will be sent into the Complexo da Mare community in the north of Rio just three months before the World Cup final, supposedly the showpiece of the entire tournament, takes place.

Meanwhile, sporting press around the globe has picked up on the threat of violence hanging over this summer. Well-known French sports magazine France Football (via Soccerly) ran a detailed feature on the fear emanating from Brazil prior to the tournament.

It is worth remembering one important fact: FIFA did not ask Brazil to host the World Cup.

The national government went to world football's governing body with the request. The decision to hand the competition to South America's megapower is now swathed in doubt.

FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke has made almost constant criticisms about the state of the country's preparations. He once famously quipped Brazil needed a "kick up the backside," per The Telegraph.

There was outrage at the time, which down the line is hard to fathom after Brazil went out of its way to land the event. The wave of euphoria has been replaced by a shadow of fear.

Brazil and its government are on the defensive. Three stadiums remain to be delivered to FIFA despite an imposed deadline of December 31. The enthusiasm and goodwill looks to have evaporated from the public.

In its place stands an invisible line, a silent threat. Instead of joy, there is confrontation, as groups of protesters threaten to derail the show.

A World Cup in Brazil was supposed to be one for the purists. Right now, it looks like one being shunned by the very country whose strongest character definition derives from o jogo bonito