Murals reveal Brazil's mixed Cup emotions

By Jonathan Watts

A child walks by a mural of Brazil's player Hulk in the Ceilandia suburb of Brasilia. Photo / AP
A child walks by a mural of Brazil's player Hulk in the Ceilandia suburb of Brasilia. Photo / AP

On a flaking, whitewashed wall in central Rio, street artist Williams Aurelino is adding the final touches to a mural of the Brazilian soccer team.

The caricatures of the players are finished - a rakish Neymar, David Luiz with a frizzy mane, a green-skinned Hulk and, of course, the impressively unimpressed manager, Luiz Felipe Scolari. All that remains to be painted is the blue background and the shorts, socks and boots.

"It will be ready in time for the opening game," says the artist. "We'll have a party here, a big screen, a barbecue, lots of people. It's going to be fun."

That will be music to the ears of the World Cup's organisers who - after years of bad publicity about stadium delays, deaths of construction workers and cost overruns - are hoping Friday's kick-off will switch the focus to soccer.

The lower-middle-class neighbourhood of Gloria - where the mural is found - is certainly doing its bit.

Here, the residents are gearing up for the football fiesta in traditional style. Bunting crisscrosses the street, flags adorn windows, and the stairs up the hill are painted green and yellow. But the enthusiasm is far from universal. Ten minutes' walk away, artists have painted two very different wall murals that highlight the problems of inequality, dangerous working conditions and forced relocations that have plagued the World Cup.

The first is of a giant, tarnished trophy made up of a slave straining on bended knee beneath the weight of an oversized football. The second depicts a soccer bulldozer pushing shanty-town homes aside to make way for a red carpet.

"We wanted to create a channel of expression for all the victims of the brutal evictions. We want to give these people and their sad stories a place in history and society," said B. Shanti, the artist who painted the mural.

The independent journalist collective Midia Ninja, which has also been highly critical of the World Cup preparations, is launching a new online platform in Rocinha, the biggest favela in Rio. Huge images and slogans on the side of it will be visible from many parts of Rio.

The images reflect the conflicted mood in Brazil towards a tournament that carries more than the usual weight of expectation and frustration.

Support for the Brazilian national team remains fanatical in this soccer- obsessed nation. The home fans are hoping a sixth trophy will lay to rest the ghosts of the 1950 defeat against Uruguay at the Maracana. The Government aims to show how far Brazil has developed economically, and President Dilma Rousseff will be hoping for success to set the scene for re-election in October.

But ever since mass protests during the Confederations Cup last year, public awareness of the social and economic costs of the tournament have made many uneasy about displays of enthusiasm. As compared with previous World Cups, public support is low. A poll by the Pew Research Centre suggests that 61 per cent of the public feel that hosting the World Cup was a bad idea, because it diverts resources that could be better spent on public services such as healthcare.

Everyone from Pele and Romario to the Catholic Church has criticised the expense and delays.

Footballer-turned-congressman Romario has described the impact on state funds as "the biggest heist in the history of Brazil". Last week the bishops' conference issued a "red card" to the organisers for squandering public funds and evicting people for stadium construction.

"The church wants to contribute to the public debate and express its concern with ... the inversion of priorities in the use of public money that should go to health, education, basic sanitation, transportation and security," it said.

Although there has been no recent repeat of the mass protests seen last year, small-scale demonstrations against Fifa corruption and police brutality continue. A graffiti image that depicts a hungry black child sitting at a table with only a football to eat has gone viral. Other images mock unfinished infrastructure projects promised for the World Cup.

The UOL website reported that few shops and petrol stations were putting up bunting in Sao Paulo because they were worried it might make them the target of anti-World Cup protesters. The city has been gridlocked by a transport strike.

Fears of transport chaos throughout the tournament abound, despite government plans to give schools early holidays to ease congestion. Some are fleeing the host cities.

But those who remain are getting in the mood. One of the community organisers in Gloria, Valter Peixoto, acknowledges that elsewhere in Brazil the mood is not as joyful as before previous tournaments, but says the residents plan their own celebrations, come what may.

"There is much less decoration than in the past. People are confused. The Government is stealing from the people through corruption. But what we are doing has nothing to do with them. It's for us. It's for the players."

- Observer

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