Somewhere between the first protest over transit fare hikes in Sao Paulo and president Dilma Rousseff’s public address three weeks later, football and the Olympic Games found themselves swept into the heart of Brazilian anger.
The outcry had centered around failed social services, corruption, and misplaced expenditure. As the crowds grew from tens of thousand to a million-strong on June 20, Brazil’s two biggest sporting show pieces—the 2014 World Cup football and the 2016 Olympic Games—were turned into symbols of everything wrong with the government and the country’s elite.
On the day of the Confederations Cup (a preparatory event for 2014) semi-final, between Brazil and Uruguay in Belo Horizonte, 50,000 clashed with police a few miles from the stadium. In Brasilia, a peaceful yet more symbolic protest took place as the crowds kicked footballs over a police cordon—and toward the Congress.
Until Brazil’s winter of discontent, most criticism in countries hosting football World Cups or the Olympics tended to emanate from a relatively small fringe group protesting escalating costs and tax burdens.