Once the tear gas had settled and the red-clad protesters had fled, the Sao Paulo man stuck his head out the window and shouted a message encapsulating the divide troubling Brazil on kick-off day: “Today there will be a Cup!”
The protesters’ slogan that, “There won’t be a Cup” has dogged Brazil for the past year, marring preparations for the opening match in Sao Paulo’s shiny new — if chronically delayed and over-budget — Corinthians Arena.
Brazil’s ambivalence toward the World Cup was on full display as the country geared up for the game, the sea of green and yellow in some areas contrasting with the clashes between police and protesters in Sao Paulo and fears of more nationwide. The festive move, however, seemed a world away from the clashes outside the Carrao subway station on Sao Paulo’s east side. Gregory Leao, a 27-year-old law student at the protest, said the demonstrators wanted to invade Corinthians Arena.
“The objective is to put an end to the World Cup. We realize we’re not going to achieve it, but we believe Brazilians should rise up,” he said.
Brandishing a red banner with the slogan “Without rights there will be no Cup,” the protesters numbered only a few dozen and didn’t look capable of invading much of anything.
But riot police showed their determination not to let them mar the nation’s big day, firing tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets to break them up and detaining one shirtless man who refused to flee. In Rio, striking airport ground staff — the latest to join the wave of strikes ahead of the tournament — invaded the road to the international airport and briefly blocked it off.
Their protest created a long traffic jam, causing some worried travelers to exit their vehicles and run toward the airport to catch their flights.
Around 500 protesters in downtown Rio also sought to revive the momentum of the million-strong protests that shook Brazil last year during the Confederations Cup — a World Cup dress rehearsal — shouting “FIFA go home!”
In some of the 12 host cities, the World Cup atmosphere was visibly tense. In Belo Horizonte, many banks and businesses around the central square were closed ahead of a protest planned for midday. Host city Curitiba also had little World Cup spirit on display.
There was little green and yellow on the streets, and some vendors were selling T-shirts with the slogan “F**k World Cup 2014 in Brazil.