Take a second to think about your favorite sports team. Now take another second to think about your team’s ultimate rival. Imagine, both teams going face to face at the championship game. Get a sense of the crowd from both perspectives. See how pumped each side is and how confident they are that their team is going to win. The feeling of great pride for your team is a common feeling shared among many sports fanatics. It is a feeling that differentiates true sports fans versus a “bandwagon”; it is like a polar magnet that attracts all fans to the game in order to represent their favorite team and have a chance to show off their victory and strong nation pride to the opposing team.
The World Cup is no different in showcasing this strong emotion of nationalism. In fact, the World Cup has been a solid representation of nationalism, power relations and politics. Looking at one specific country, I will be focusing on Brazil’s strong sense of nation pride. To Brazilians, football is a huge part of their culture; it became a game of the people. It was first introduced in 1864 by British sailors and has gradually grown in popularity to become a major part of the Brazilian culture. To the fans futebol offered “group loyalty, emotional release, and a technical knowledge which could be mastered without schooling of pedigree” (Levine 236). You did not need to be of high social class in order to play the game. In fact, Brazil’s samba style that has become the iconic style of play, derived from the streets. During the 1950s and onward, Brazilian futebol became universally recognized for the excitement and was a huge source of countrywide egotism (Levine 240). Five times World Cup champions, Brazil’s soccer team has given Brazilians solid reason to be proud of their country.
During the 1950 World Cup game, Brazil was selected to be the host of the games. To Brazilians, hosting the games was a massive honor. The fact that this was going to be the first World Cup game since World War II also added to the keenness. The Maracanã located in Rio de Janeiro was a stadium specifically built for this World Cup. It housed about 200,000 excited fans on the final game, Brazil vs. Uruguay (B. Murray 88). “The idea was to construct an enormous structure that would provide a suitably majestic setting for the host country’s victory at the 1950 tournament” (Maracanã – Estádio Jornalista Mário Filho) and it succeeded doing so. Brazil’s fans were beyond ecstatic for the final game; their confidence in winning was set in stone. Newspapers headlined their articles “Brasil Campeão 1950!” (translates to: Brazil Champions 1950!) A celebratory samba dance, Brazil The Victors, had been composed; even the mayor of Rio gave a congratulatory speech to the team (S. Murray). 74 year-old Brazilian football player Pele, also known as “the King”, remembers the vibe the crowd radiated, “It was as if Brazil had won before the game [had taken place].” Likewise, the FIFA President, Jules Rimet had prepared a speech in Portuguese on the assumption that Brazil was going to be champions (Robinson). Uruguay was no match for Brazil, at least that is what every Brazilian thought.
Brazil, needing a draw to be champions, was defeated by Uruguay with a final score of 2-1. Mario Zagallo, former Brazilian football player and manager, remembers what it was like to experience what was considered a national tragedy, “[t]here were 200,000 people in the stadium with white handkerchiefs, which ultimately became a huge handkerchief to dry our tears because we cried so much that day.” The stadium had become a sea of tears. To put this into perspective of just how big nation pride and football are in Brazil, the loss against Uruguay initiated at least four deaths that day – three from heart attacks and one fan committed suicide by throwing himself off the stand (1950 World Cup). Moreover, the President of FIFA, speechless by the end result, handed the trophy to the Uruguayan captain Obdulio Varela without fanfare as the crowd sat in silence and disbelief (Maracana, July 1950). To this day, the 1950 World Cup catastrophe continues to haunt Brazilians. Brazil’s Minister of Sport Aldo Rebelo tells Reuters that “[l]osing to Uruguay in 1950 not only impacted Brazilian soccer. It impacted on the country’s self-esteem. Brazilians felt defeated as a country and only felt redeemed when we won the 1958 World Cup…” (Collett). It is no secret the drastic impact football brings to Brazil. To them, as to many other nations, football is a way of representing passion, commitment and love for their nation and for the game itself.
This summer, Brazil has been offered a second opportunity to restore their national pride and shake away the unwanted label of being the only world champion country never to win a World Cup while being a host (Whieldon). This summer will be Brazil’s moment to win the World Cup at the Maracanã, overcome the painful memory of the 1950 World Cup and demonstrate its glory to the world. Although Brazil is hoping for a victory that will wash away the mortifying Maracanã incident, many people have insinuated that a defeat could also have a positive effect. With the Brazilian government spending a huge amount of money in constructing twelve new stadiums to accommodate the visiting nations and fans, many Brazilian citizens are protesting the disparity of money being spent on World Cup adjustments instead of investing it in better health care, education services, transportation services and housing. Banners that said, “No rights, No World Cup” and “FIFA go home” were seen at many strikes (McElroy). However, what began as a simple protest for humanitarian changes, soon changed as protesters acquired another reason to be against hosting the World Cup. Due to the stressful pressure of creating twelve massive stadiums before kickoff in July, there has been an increase in the number of injuries and deaths of construction workers. “Of the six workers who have been killed in stadium construction accidents, four have lost their lives since late November as the deadline pressure picked up. The latest casualty, Antônio José Pita Martins, was crushed last week in Arena da Amazônia in Manaus, where three people have died preparing the stadium where England will play their opening match against Italy” (Watts). As if adding more fuel to the fire, Brazilians have began to question whether or not hosting the World Cup is worth the deaths, sacrifices and economic fallbacks being made.
It wasn’t always a question Brazilian citizens thought of. If we go back to the year 2007 when Brazil was awarded the tournament, we witness a totally different crowd than what we see today. Back then; upon hearing the news of becoming prospective hosts, Brazilians from every unit were overfilled with joy to receive this opportunity. “Ricardo Teixeira, president of the Brazilian Football Confederation, was hailed as he said: “We are a civilized nation, a nation that is going through an excellent phase, and we have got everything prepared to receive adequately the honour to organize an excellent World Cup”” (Watts 2). Caught up in the moment, many Brazilians did not doubt the wisdom behind the decision to host the World Cup. To them, football belonged in Brazil and it was time to show the world how they party. They were, however, not prepared for the corruption, inequality and public insecurity that came along with becoming a host.
The World Cup is an event that unites all nations around the world every four years to play what is known as “the world’s most popular sport” (B. Murray 4). It is a time for countries to demonstrate their individual passion for the game, their vibrant love for their country and a chance to experience the culture of the host country. For Brazil, football has become more than a game. Five times world champions, Brazilians are honored to be from a prideful and talented country. We learned that to be granted the privilege to host the World Cup has its perks and downfalls. Here, we saw both sides of the picture. We got a chance to look back to 2007 and picture the moment full of bliss Brazil celebrated once they found out they were to host the World Cup in 2014. It was a chance to redeem their nation-pride from the upsetting occurrence that happened in 1950. However, many Brazilians were not expecting to be involved in such political dilemmas. Becoming a host was more than the country bargained for. It has led many Brazilians unsatisfied by the way the government has handled their economic spending’s, focusing more on temporary football stadiums and putting aside many of the daily problems Brazil is facing such as health reforms and improvements in education and transportation.
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Levine, Robert M. “Sport and Society: The Case of Brazilian Futebol.” JSTOR. University of Wisconsin Press, 1980. Web. 18 Mar. 2014.
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Watts, Jonathan. “Brazil’s Protests Raise Fears for World Cup as a Million Take to the Streets.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 21 June 2013. Web. 20 Mar. 2014.
Watts, Jonathan. “Brazil’s World Cup Courts Disaster as Delays, Protests and Deaths Mount.” The Observer. Guardian News and Media, 15 Feb. 2014. Web. 20 Mar. 2014.
Whieldon, Andrew. “Brazil’s ‘Stray Dog’ Complex.” http://inbedwithmaradona.com/. IBWM, 15 Oct. 2012. Web. 21 Mar. 2014.