Opinion, by Robbie Blakeley
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The protests staged across Brazil over the last ten days, beamed throughout the world and scrawled over social media sites, have been some of the darkest days in the country’s recent history. The twenty centavo bus fare increase – since forgotten in the wake of such violent demonstrations – was the last straw for a people tired of escalating costs in exchange for mediocre services.
But the protests came to embody more than simply the spiralling cost of living. Political corruption, lack of public investment in health and education and, on a sporting front, excess spending on the 2014 World Cup, which is now estimated to stand at R$27 billion, brought millions to the streets to demonstrate.
But whilst Brazil remains in a frenzied state of confrontation and rebellion, as the middle and lower classes finally wake up and demand something in return for the taxes they pay, there has been one chink of light in the dark corners of demonstration; the display of the Seleção, the Brazilian national football team, in competitive action for the first time in two years and on home soil.
Scolari has won three consecutive games in the Confederations Cup – four if you count the preluding friendly against France – and murmurings of discontent are slowly changing to expressions of belief that this Brazil team, whilst not the most exciting and vivacious the nation has ever produced, could actually win something.
Built upon a solid base the team has begun to take shape thanks in no small part to the emergence of its brightest star, Neymar. Visibly liberated, as if relieved to have cast off the shackles that were keeping him bound to boyhood club Santos, the 21-year-old’s multi-million dollar transfer to Catalan giants Barcelona appears to have already given the attacker a new lease of life.
He scored a screamer to open Brazil’s account in the competition against Japan, followed by another against Mexico and a delightful curling free-kick against a powerful Italian outfit on Saturday, proving to his most stringent critics he can fulfill his mammoth potential. A firmer platform at Barcelona will allow Neymar to release his potential upon the world supported ably by Messi, Xavi, Iniesta et al.
Spurred on by Neymar, Brazil have scored thirteen goals in their last four matches, conceding only two in reply. The Seleção take on Uruguay on Wednesday in a game which will reportedly see more protests staged in several cities. But in Brazil’s Confederations Cup campaign, contrasted amidst political upheaval, comes a sporting sliver of light, of hope for a success story amongst the turmoil and an urgent need for Brazil to regain some self respect.
It is sport’s unique ability to offer a lifeline, a line in the sand, that brings its joy. It is the opportunity to forget momentarily the serious issues that must be addressed not only before the 2014 World Cup but in the long term to offer Brazil sustained strength for the future.
It is the refuge whilst the government and its people remain at loggerheads. It is why we love football.