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Friday, June 21, 2013

Brazil’s World Cup Winners Support Protests

Video of protesters in Rio de Janeiro singing, “The people woke up,” at a rally on Thursday.

One day after peaceful protests in Rio de Janeiro and other cities descended into chaotic street battles between protesters and the police, and tensions boiled over between factions within the demonstrations as well, a congressman who once helped Brazil win a World Cup railed against the cost of staging next year’s tournament.

Speaking in a video posted on YouTube (not yet subtitled in English), the former soccer star Romário threw his support behind the demonstrations and criticized what he called waste and mismanagement on an epic scale in the preparations for the 2014 World Cup.

A statement on the protests in Brazil posted on YouTube by Romário, a former star of the national soccer team who is now a congressman.

Romário, a Socialist Party member who represents Rio de Janeiro in the federal congress, said that the more than $3 billion spent so far on building and renovating stadiums for the tournament could have paid instead for 8,000 new schools, 39,000 school buses and 28,000 sports facilities for the public. “The money spent in Mané Garrincha Stadium” in the ca! pital, Brasília, he added, “could have been used to build 150,000 homes for people of low income, medium income or no income.”

Romário, the hero of Brazil’s 1994 triumph, also criticized the role played by soccer’s world governing body, FIFA, which he called “a state inside of the state.” He said that after the Confederations Cup, a test run for next year’s tournament that is now under way, “some things that didn’t work will need to be redone, and some new things for the World Cup will need to be done. And who determines what needs to be done? The true president of Brazil today, named FIFA.”

Later in the video statement, he added: “Our country’s current president, named FIFA, will arrive, will collect a profit of four billion reais,” or nearly $2 billion. Normally, a profit like that would cost a business about $500 million, Romário said, but FIFA “won’t pay it. That is: it will come, it will mount its circus, won’t spend anything and will take everything.”

Romário, who grew up in poverty in one of Rio’s favelas, or slums, is not known for understatement. In 1995, after he scored three times in a triumphant return to his home city, he told reporters as he walked off the pitch: “There are many kings in the world, but only one God. I am Romário. I am God.”

His latest comments, however, seemed to channel widespread anger at lavish spending on the World Cup and the 2016 Olympics in Rio at a time when money for public services is in short supply. At least three other former stars of the national team have spoken in favor of the protests this week.

Just one day earlier, another legend of the Brazilian game, Pelé, was forced to retreat from comments in which he had called on his compatriots to focus on supporting the national team in the Confederations Cup and “forget all of this mayhem that’s happening in Brazil, all of these protests.”

After video of those remarks spread online this week, Pelé posted a message on Twitter expressing his support for the protest movement.

As The Financial Times reported, another legendary goal scorer, Ronaldo, added his voice to the chorus this week, writing on Twitter, “I feel pride when I see peaceful and democratic protests throughout the country.”

Earlier in the week, Ronaldo, too, was lambasted by protesters after old video of him defending the spending on stadiums and saying, “You can’t hold the World Cup with h! ospitals,! ” resurfaced online.

Video of Ronaldo defending Brazil’s spending on stadiums for the World Cup, posted online this week.

On Twitter, Ronaldo said that he had made those comments two years ago, before Brazil’s economy slowed, and complained that the video posted online had been edited so that his comments were presented out of context. He added, “I’m not responsible for the spending of public money, and I reject corruption.”

One of Ronaldo’s teammates on the Brazilian squad that won the 2002 World Cup, Rivaldo, also posted comments on Twitter this week calling the protests justified. “It’s shameful to spend so much money for this World Cup and leave the hospitals and schools in such a precarious state,” Rivaldo wrote. “At this moment we aren’t in shape to host the World Cup, we don’t need it, we need education and health.”