World Cup 2014: A beautiful game – but only on the pitch

The Brazilian World Cup has been beset by brutal police tactics, unfinished stadiums and corporate greed

Rio de Janeiro

The stunning goals, the fight backs, the stars shining on the pitch, have all conspired to have this World Cup already talked about as – so far – the greatest ever, certainly in recent times.

That might be true for the vast majority of fans, for whom World Cups exist entirely on the television. And it is a convenient situation for Fifa and their contest’s Brazilian organisers, because everywhere but on the pitch this tournament is already beset with problems.

The promised protests have been significantly smaller than anticipated. Yet that has not been matched by a downscaling in police tactics, with riot officers reaching for their tear-gas canisters and stun grenades at the first opportunity.

A mile from the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday night, in a video taken by the Associated Press, a man who identified himself as a police officer points his gun at crowds and then fires what are believed to be live rounds into the sky, dispersing the 200 or so protesters.

The police say they will open an investigation into the incident, if the video is verified. “We’re seeing tonight the same police brutality we’ve seen during the past year, and that’s why we have to keep protesting,” Karen Rodrigues, a 23-year-old student at the demonstration, told AP.

Meanwhile, at the Arena Brasilia, hundreds of thousands of fans were queueing outside in security lines long after kick-off on Sunday, adding to the growing problem of empty seats, a consequence of the tickets rightly reserved for Brazilian nationals being unaffordable for large numbers of the population. And at the Maracana, footage has emerged of what appears to be dozens of Argentina fans streaming through a inadvertently opened security gate.

Inside the stadiums, whole banks of supporters have chanted of President Dilma Rousseff: “Ay Dilma vai tomar no cu” – translating as “Hey Dilma, stick it up your ...”  Well, let’s just say it’s not “jumper”.

Some of the problems are inevitable consequences, perhaps, of hosting an event inside 12 entirely box-fresh stadiums. Other difficulties are self-inflicted, principally by greed.

Those who have arrived at the stadiums hours before kick-off have seen plugs and light fittings being screwed in to the walls in the concourses, and cellophane being peeled of tables and chairs in the corporate hospitality areas.

Spectators locked out of the Fifa Fan Fest zone on Copacabana Beach Spectators locked out of the Fifa Fan Fest zone on Copacabana Beach (EPA)

Ticket-holding fans have been prevented from bringing food into grounds. In Salvador, where Spain played Holland, there was no food available by the time the match kicked off. Only one concession reportedly had any water.

Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana beach, where the grandest Fifa Fan Fest of them all is set, is well used to handling huge events. Millions descend upon it every New Year’s Eve. The modus operandi is well practised and successful. And even the Rolling Stones, who are arguably more businessmen than musicians these days, played their only ever free concert here in 2006.

Not so Fifa. Anyone who wants to watch the game on their big screen must line up, pass through metal detectors and enter the closed-off area, a heart of Mammon-style corporate hell, penned in by towering Coca-Cola bottles, showrooms of Hyundai cars, and the messaging of the official mobile phone providers.

Every evening, thousands of fans are locked out. Yards behind is a second screen, but so far this has only been switched on for the Brazil and Argentina matches, when the number of fans on the beach has more than doubled. Were it to be switched on for every game, Fifa would have to avert some of its captive eyeballs from its paymaster’s logos, and share the beer money.

Police block anti-World Cup protesters attempting to march to the Maracana stadium Police block anti-World Cup protesters attempting to march to the Maracana stadium (Getty)

“I didn’t know it was going to be like this. It’s ridiculous,” said Ian Hart, from Southampton, as he waited among around 1,500 fans still locked out of the Fan Fest long after the England match had kicked off on Saturday. “There’s a massive screen there. There’s thousands of us here. Why can’t they just switch it on?”

The Brazilian organising committee has said these problems have been dealt with. But in a country where almost no one speaks English, it speaks volumes that a video of the British comedian John Oliver’s satirical takedown of Fifa has been shared on social networks just as much as in the English speaking world.

“Think of money as pubic hair and Fifa as wax,” he says. “Oh, they’re going to be all over you during the World Cup, but when they go they’re taking all the money with them – including some from some places you didn’t even know you had any money.”

That is not a teething problem, that is a deliberate strategy, and one that is likely to keep the protesters, and the tear gas, flowing right to the end of this tournament.

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