There will be a raucous chorus of national anthems next summer. There will be a grandstand packed with screaming fans, a horde of flashing cameras, and plenty of soccer balls hitting nets. There will also be a thought in the back of your head.
Just how much does this matter?
Protests that originally stemmed from high public transportation fares morphed into calls for sweeping political reform last month. A soccer ref stabbed a player in an altercation mid-match, only to be beheaded by a storm of angry friends and family members this past weekend and have his head mounted on a spike. Rapper MC Daleste was shot and killed on stage Saturday night. Somewhere in between, Brazil hosted and won FIFA's Confederations Cup.
The aftermath of the attack on the soccer referee. Warning: footage is extremely graphic.
Though it's a foreign concept in America, international football prompts visceral celebration and communal gathering. When violence and civil outbreak overshadows one of the biggest wins in the sport's four-year cycle, we have a problem. With so many unsettling issues in the country, is Brazil really fit to host the World Cup next summer?
The answer right now is an obvious no. And there's not much to do about it either. The stadiums have been constructed; the arrangements have been made. It means that the World Cup is going to mean something a little different next summer.
It's been a while since FIFA selected a World Cup host that didn't have any hiccups or red flags. In '02, concerns were raised over Japan and Korea's joint bid, as well as the countries' lack of distinguished soccer history. In '06, Germany was marred by a bribery that turned out to be from a satirical German paper. In 2010, pundits and fans alike fretted over South Africa's readiness to support the Cup in the wake of shoddy transportation and potential natural disasters. But that all seems trivial compared to what Brazil faces.
What's also distressing is the level and frequency of media coverage on these outbursts in Brazil. Can anyone care about soccer when handheld cameras capture shootings, riots and protests?
Though the subject of socioeconomic inequality and political corruption were broached in South Africa, the World Cup in 2010 seemed like a welcome reprieve from any civil disorder, and a celebration of what the country had to offer to the rest of the soccer community. In Brazil, protests and fervor have actually been escalated by the costs of sprawling soccer stadiums.
It's tough to enjoy the Cup knowing that much of it was constructed as a facade. Perhaps this means the soccer will be contextualized next summer; the biggest international athletic gathering aside from the Olympics could be a tool to raise awareness or question our global progress. It could bring soccer down from the pedestal it sits on across the world, and perhaps bring more of those cameras and ESPN headlines to the real issues that need reporting and attention.
We have no idea what the country will look like in a year, but with an expected 3.8 million Brazilians in attendance, the World Cup could be a political catalyst. The fact that another 600 thousand fans are flocking from around the globe has significance too. For the first time in a while, the uncertainty around the Cup is about more than just the outcomes of matches.
It all makes sense in an international sport that's so inherently political. Maybe it's just time we take the politics and put them ahead of the soccer, rather than with it.