Brazil vs Colombia World Cup 2014 preview: The pastor tackling Fifa over World Cup ‘tragedy’

Minister from favela in shadow of Maracana reveals how he has fought in vain with Blatter and Co for them to put some tournament-generated funds back into Brazil’s poor areas

Rio de Janeiro

In his office overlooking the main street of the favela Jacarezinho, Antonio Carlos Costa, a Presbyterian minister from the affluent southern zone of Rio de Janeiro, recalls the day he turned up at Fifa’s Swiss headquarters and asked football’s world governing body what it would do for the poor of his country.

“I went inside with billboards asking, ‘Who would profit more? Fifa businessmen or the Brazilian people?’” Costa says. “The press office people came very quickly. I invited them to come to see our favela. After all, if they wanted to be closer to their new stadium [the Maracana] it is only four kilometres away. I asked them what they would do if children in their country had no education or people died in line waiting to be seen in hospital.”

Costa gestures out of the window. “The government put 1bn reals [£260m] into the Maracana. One billion reals would have transformed this place.” He notes that Fifa’s president, Sepp Blatter, spent £16m of the organisation’s money on a film about himself starring Tim Roth. What was Fifa’s response to him? “They were petrified. They didn’t say anything.”

Fifa has not taken up the invitation to visit Pastor Antonio in Jacarezinho. It is Rio’s third-largest favela, home to around 70,000 people, drug gangs and only superficially “pacified” – government terminology – for the World Cup finals by the poorly paid officers of a new police force, the Unidade de Policia Pacificadora (UPP).

As we walk around Jacarezinho, Costa, a charismatic 52-year-old white man who greets everyone with warmth, outlines a few basic rules. We must stick near him because he has the trust of the community, and as a result the drug gangs allow him to work there. Our photographer- Betinho Casas Novas, a native of the Alemao Complex, a nearby favela, is given one simple proviso: he can photograph what he likes, but not the dealers.

They are not hard to spot. After a while the same young men, often on motorbikes, pass by, checking out the foreign faces in the favela. As for Jacarezinho, it is best described as a modern medieval city with all the chaos, squalor, violence and poverty that evokes. Single-track roads teeming with life turn into narrow alleys where there are hard stares from those who rule there. Only a fraction of the population work in the drug trade – the rest battle to survive in very low-paid jobs.

Costa is not waiting for Fifa to arrive. Instead he will take the fight to it. On Sunday his NGO, Rio de Paz – “Rio for Peace” – will stage another eye-catching protest against the estimated £2.1bn of public money spent on the World Cup stadiums alone, demonstrating in front of the Copacabana Palace hotel, the wedding cake-style, five-star edifice that has been home to the Fifa elite for the tournament.

Rio de Paz will bring mannequins blinded and gagged, accompanied by billboards telling Fifa and the Brazilian government “We are not blind” to the public money spent. Rio de Paz first came to prominence in April 2007 when 1,000 protesters lay down in a line on the Copacabana beach to represent the 1,000 violent deaths in Rio already that year. Four months later, they filled and half-buried 3,000 black bin-liners in the beach, body bags to mark the increased death toll.

Costa is the man taking on Blatter and the governing elite of Brazil who promised no public money would be spent on hosting the tournament. Discontent is evident in Rio, from graffiti on the beach walls in Ipanema to “Fifa go home” stencilled in yellow paint at road crossings. Costa is one man prepared to speak out, even as Brazil’s beloved Selecao face Colombia for a place in the semi-finals. Luiz Felipe Scolari has favoured close passing or tabelas in training Luiz Felipe Scolari's Brazil face Colombia

He accepts that the people regard the team as “sacred” and Jacarezinho, whose most famous son is Romario, star of Brazil’s 1994 World Cup-winning team, comes to a standstill for the team’s games. But Costa cannot accept that the country has made the right choice in ignoring its poor.

“People said the World Cup will change the image of Brazil,” he says, “but when you come to this place, you will change your view about the World Cup. The splendour of the game covers up what you can see for yourself here.”

The timing of Sunday’s protest is intriguing. If the unthinkable happens for Brazil and their team are eliminated by Colombia then, Costa says, thoughts will begin to turn back to the money being spent on the “Copa”. The mass protests that shook the Brazilian establishment this year have been kept at bay so far by the support for the team and a huge security operation.

Costa preaches social change in Jacarezinho, and as a man of the church he does not want to be seen as an agitator for violence. But he acknowledges “the reality is [the situation in Brazil is] so fragile”.

He says that around £500m was spent on public security for the World Cup finals – there are policemen everywhere in the tourist areas of Rio’s Zona Sul – a bill the country can hardly afford. Yet Fifa is given a tax exemption on what is estimated will be £580m profits, meaning the only tax it pays will be in Switzerland.

Downstairs in Rio de Paz’s offices they have opened a bakery school they hope will give young people a trade away from the local drug gang, the Comande Vermelho, the “Red Command”, whose “CV” tag is on every wall. Rio de Paz accepts no funding from the government which, Costa says, gives it independence and credibility.

Instead he raises money from private donations from his Rio congregation. He is a sharp, pragmatic PR man for his cause. Twitter and Facebook, Costa says, are “fundamental” to Rio de Paz and the speed at which it can mobilise. There has been a documentary about him on Swiss TV after his Fifa House demonstration and this weekend his profile is likely to rise with the many camera crews on Copacabana.

With despair he recalls a statistic related to him by a sympathetic senator at the Congress in Brasilia, that 5,000 families in Brazil control 45 per cent of the wealth in a nation of 200 million. He estimates that the crime figures for 2014 will take the number of violent deaths in Brazil in the last 10 years to 600,000. He talks of Rio de Paz activists visiting a young man in a local prison and measuring the temperature in his cell at 56.7C.

“If you see the faces in the Maracana crowd you’d think Brazil is a whites-only country,” he says. “The World Cup is a World Cup for the rich.”

As we head to the main road, and a taxi journey back into white-dominated, affluent Rio, we pass three UPP officers reluctantly embarking on a patrol on the darkening streets of Jacarezinho. “The police are so young,” Costa has told us. “They are without supervision. They don’t have any values. They are poorly paid.” These three policemen look terrified.

Sunday’s protest will be followed by another, one day before the final – whether Brazil are playing or not. Already Costa’s thoughts are turning to the 2016 Olympics in the city. He gets the impression that the International Olympic Committee is more amenable to creating a lasting social legacy. And Fifa? “Fifa is leaving with its image devastated in terms of social responsibility,” he says. “It is a tragedy.”

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