When Brazil and Croatia kickoff on Thursday, the eyes of the world will be on the host nation for the world’s most watched sporting event. The events outside the stadium, however, could be just as closely watched and the implications could be further reaching.
As anyone who has spent any time on the Internet recently now knows, Brazil spent about $14 billion to host the World Cup. This spending at the cost of investment in human services has led to the widespread protests and strikes that have impacted Brazil for years. Now, with the “eyes of the world” on the country, they take on an even greater importance as the inconvenience moves beyond just Brazilians.
We saw how the world and soccer fans reacted to these protests during the Confederations Cup, but that was a small tournament compared to the attention the World Cup receives, and over the next few weeks a narrative of the events both inside and outside the stadium will be written. How that narrative is written could determine the fate of the World Cup and Brazil itself. And this is not hyperbole.
The truth is that Americans fail to truly understand events happening outside of the country until they affect us directly. We have no sense of wider world issues until it affects us Americans. The World Cup is exactly the right kind of event to introduce the public to a geopolitical issue. ESPN will undoubtedly spend time showing footage of the protests in-between match analysis because we saw them do exactly that in the Confederations Cup. Increase the audience, focus coverage on the issue, and suddenly a large chunk of the populations begins to discuss what they saw on television the night before. The U.S. plays on a poor pitch that billions were spent to construct, or their bus is delayed because of protests and traffic in the streets. Suddenly we care about what is going on outside the stadiums, and we buy in.
This is not an academic exercise. Already, the Belgium-U.S. closed door friendly was cancelled Wednesday due to massive traffic jams between the hotels and stadiums. A transit worker strike had shut down public transportation, leaving people to drive everywhere. In April, police staged a two-day strike and as a result crime spiked. When these incidents happen during the World Cup – and they will – a much larger audience will be paying attention and it will impact the team they care about.