Fifa wouldn't let favelas ruin a World Cup, so it bulldozed them
Published 05/07/2014 | 11:00
One reason why the match between the USA and Belgium was so marvellous was how it confused us, as millions found themselves backing the Americans as underdogs. "Come on you plucky little superpower," we shouted at our televisions. "Don't be bullied by huge, bullying Belgium."
Occasionally, I'd come to my senses, such as when Clint Dempsey fired a shot into the stands, and I'd remember the Pentagon would report this as a smart kick that hit the centre of its target.
And there was one tiny incident, barely noticed, when a fan ran on the pitch. "Oh dear, there's an idiot," said the commentators, one of them chuckling. "He won't enjoy himself much in a Brazilian prison."
I half-expected them to carry on, "Ha, ha, no, he won't be able to run like that once he's had a series of medieval instruments clamped to his nether regions." And, "Absolutely, Ron, say what you will about the South American police, at least you know someone who shows off like that will be spending some time in a 6x8 cell."
But this wasn't a drunken fan winning a bet with his mates. It was Mario Ferri, a protester wearing a shirt that said "Save favelas children." Favelas are the Brazilian shanty towns, such as Vila Autodromo, opposite the Maracana stadium in Rio.
In some ways, FIFA and the Brazilian government love the favelas, as they can be used for an image of a country where football is the game of the common people.
So they've made hundreds of clips of kids with no shoes playing in the street and smiling while saying "We have much huge rat, but this is good, for we nail them together to use for goalpost.
"And when drug dealer is murder is good also, for police draw outline of body on floor, which is handy for centre circle."
But they're less keen on the actual real-life favelas. In some areas, a wall has been built between the stadiums and the nearby favelas so they can't be seen. Because no one wants the common people's World Cup spoilt by the unsightly spectacle of common people.
Maybe FIFA should have been even more careful and insisted that the government built walls around individual people, if they couldn't be bothered to make themselves look glamorous enough while the World Cup is on, especially during the knock-out stage.
With hindsight, it might have been best to hold the competition in a specially designed Brazil, in a studio in Los Angeles. Then models could play the poor and top architects could design fashionable slums that would look so much more authentic than the ones in Brazil.
Instead, the authorities have opted for bulldozing people out of them altogether.
In the Favela de Metro, also near the Maracana, the first hundred families were forced out at gunpoint and moved two hours away. Because it's often said that in Brazil, football offers the route out of the slum. And this proves that's true, as the World Cup has forced people out of the slum to another one the other side of town so that Sepp Blatter doesn't have to see you.
Many people from the favelas claim the government has used the World Cup to smash up their homes, so that property dealers can develop the land left clear. This is an understandable policy, as these people are occupying prime plots of land in desirable areas and wasting their location by being poor.
The poor haven't appreciated this logic and continue to protest. Since the World Cup began, the strategy of the government has been to march troops to the start of each protest and fire tear-gas before it even begins.
To help with this method, there are now 200,000 police and soldiers stationed round the country to prevent protests. In some areas, there are drones flying overhead every day, the cost of which could probably buy everyone they're checking up on a villa on Ipanema beach.
So, when the protester ran on at USA v Belgium, it's lucky the military didn't strafe the pitch, or at least fire off several rounds of tear-gas.
It would have been an ideal opportunity to try it out, as all the players would have been writhing on the floor, clutching their heads and we'd have assumed they'd been lightly touched and were all trying to win a free-kick at the same time.