World Cup: Democracy on the Pitch

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“The socialism I believe in is everybody working for the same goal and everybody having a share in the rewards. That’s how I see football, that’s how I see life.”  -Bill Shankly

At 15h00 Brazilian local time, the Arena Corinthians will be filled to the brim as hundreds of thousands of supporters will come to see Os Canarinhos kick off the 20th edition of the FIFA World Cup. The game in itself will be of minor importance, not because Croatia doesn’t have a chance against the powerful Brazilian armada – my bet is that Brazil will still come out on top – but because of the protests that have shook Brazilian society for the past year. Those protests will find centre stage at the Arena Corinthias, as they did in the past.

Sport Club Corinthians Paulista – Corinthians for short – is  the name of one of the most important teams of Sao Paolo, Brazil, and Latin America, but its renown is not due to the number of titles amassed through the years. The source of its fame is political. Corinthians became the time do povo (The people’s team)  because of its political struggle outside of the pitch.

The story of Corinthians’ political struggle against inequality, fascism, and the brutal repression freedom of speech, dates back to the military coup of 1964.

On the 1st of April 1964 Joao Jango Goulart would be forcefully deposed from his role as 24th President of the Brazilian republic, by a right-wing military coup. Jango had close relationships with Cuba and the Socialist Bloc, and his espousal of the idea of land reform had put him on the American government’s blacklist. Thus on April first, in a matter of hours, Jango was deposed and exiled by a military junta, which would stay in power until 1985.

Democracia-Coritiana

The military coup of 1964 was part of the broader Latin American containment strategy spearheaded by Washington familiarly called operation CONDOR. CONDOR, in practice, was the indirect American financing of military reactionary groups to topple left-wing or left sympathetic, democratically elected governments. In a second time, it was to tacit American support for those military dictatorships once they were in power.

From 1964 onwards Brazilian society was, within the realm of politics, a constant victim of political repression and within the realm of economics, a laboratory for neo-liberal electro-shock therapy. This resulted in mass inequality and a horrendous hike in poverty, fostering the most unequal society in the world and crafting the gap between the violent, poverty ridden Brazil and the billionaire tropical paradise romanticized in so many Hollywood movies. It was the darkest age in Brazilian modern history.

In 1981, the Brazilian renaissance begun in the most unlikely place: the Arena Corinthians. During the 1980s until the fall of the military regime in 1985, Corinthians under the new presidency of Adlison Monteiro Alves became the spearhead of Brazilian resistance by transforming the club itself into a cooperative, where players, staff, and managers were all equal and paid equally – an advanced form of participatory democracy even for today’s standards was put in place. Every position of the board and management was democratically elected and Democracia Corinthiana was born. Slowly the fever of football, which is an everlasting flame in Brazil, combined with the urge for democracy set the country ablaze, precipitating the fall of the military regime 4 years later .

world cup protest

Today workers throughout Brazil workers are striking. The metro workers in Sao Paolo have vowed to continue their strike until the government hears their rightful demands. Protests have exploded (and I hope that they will continue) with one central demand: that the hundreds of millions of dollars that were funneled into the competition be put toward social services, education, and healthcare. As the Brazilian team enters the Arena Corinthians this evening, they must remember that this world cup represents nothing for Brazil if the voices of the Brazilian people are silenced – and even a Brazilian record breaking World Cup victory will mean nothing if A Seleção doesn’t recognize and give a stage to the struggle for a fairer and more just Brazil.

Football has always been political, and will always be political. Numerous are the examples of teams that were political actors within in their respective countries in favour of social movements, of striking workers, against fascism such as Liverpool, Rayo Vallecano, Altelico Bilbao, Spartak Moscow… If politics are checked at the door in favour of money, then football dies. The Brazilians in the streets fighting supposdely against the World Cup are fighting for the love of football. The anti-World Cup movement is fighting to keep the culture of football alive and well to preserve the reason why so many are drawn to football in the first place.

At the heart of football has always been a struggle between the perseverance of this demotic, popular culture, and the corporatization of the sport; between passion and profit, between the Brazilian people and the heads of the international Football associations such as FIFA and UEFA.

We must remind them that the love for football isn’t a monopoly of theirs. Much to the contrary, their love for Football is a selfish cult of profit and has no place in the beautiful game.

A luta continua.

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