By Daniel Duchene. Respond on Twitter.
The 2014 World Cup officially started today, and we got a lot of things done.
- São Paulo protests
We spent the last few days getting to know our first character Chloe, a journalism student who is actively protesting against the World Cup. She is not your everyday Brazilian, at least not the image of the Brazilian most have: she is tall, thin, red haired, with a very pale skin tone. She is very educated, fluent in English, and considers herself Lady Gaga’s number one fan.
We met her at 11 o’clock this morning. Alexandre dropped us at the nearest metro station, and we headed towards Metro Carrão, in the East of town, where the June 12th Big Act was going to take place. The idea was to gather all the small movements that were against the World Cup to form one big protest. 20,000 people were expected.
Once we got there, we joined a couple that was headed in the same direction. They briefed us about what had happened during the morning. A little over 4 000 members of the São Paulo’s Metro Union were passively protesting. Kids and elders were amongst them when a group of about 50 semi-anarchists who had been neutralized by the Military Police a few hours before came in the scene. This previous conflict was heavily covered by the international media where many journalists were also injured. Revolted and injured, this group that consisted mainly of 17-30 year olds, instigated a new conflict. The Military Police that was observing the Union’s protest counter attacked, so the young rebels ran to take cover among the pacifist manifestation. The Military Police continued to throw tear gas bombs and shoot rubber bullets at the young semi-anarchists, even though they were now amongst children and elders. Terrified, the Union took cover in their headquarters where they locked the gates and squeezed 4,000 protesters into a gymnasium.
This was the situation when we arrived at the scene. The Metro Union had been on strike since last Thursday, leaving the city in complete chaos, breaking the all-time traffic record of over 257km of cars stuck in the busy streets of São Paulo. They represented the biggest organized group in the protest, and were definitely the ones that gained the most momentum and exposure from the media headed to the opening game.
We managed to get in the Union’s headquarters from the backdoor, but once we reached the front gate about 15 minutes later, we realized that they were calling it quits, and were slowly releasing their members so they could head back home safely. “The Act is over. Everybody go home. There will be no more protest.”, yelled the Union’s leader on the mic.
About 200 other protesters that had gathered around the Union’s building were eager to continue the manifestation and were revolted at the decision of the Union to abandon the cause. In the next few minutes, the tension rose significantly as the semi-anarchist group cursed and threw objects at the Union members leaving the building. As the last of them left, a flag from the Union’s strike was ripped from a truck and set on fire by the young rebels.
It was at that time that the Military Police started marching towards the unorganized 200 rebels desperately looking for someone to guide their manifesting efforts. Our character, Chloe, turned around and said: “You should put your helmets and masks now. They are about to charge.” She was right. The entire group started running to the opposite direction of the shielded policemen pushing us south. The more experienced protesters started to set large objects on fire to keep the police from reaching us. Finally, at that point, the gathering started to look like an actual manifestation as more people joined us at every corner as we marched towards an unknown goal.
Now close to 400, we reached a roundabout corner where the Shock Troops were waiting for us. It was an impressive scene. We stopped at the corner to film the protesters marching in front of the heavily armed troops. All of the sudden, for no particular reason, as the protest was taking an organized form, a tear gas bomb was thrown and landed about 7 feet from where Shaan and I were standing.
“Bomb! Bomb!“, yelled the crowd, and in an surviving effort, we took off running as the bomb exploded a dozen yards from us. 5 other bombs were thrown, and as we wildly ran for safety, guns were fired and two rubber bullets came flying inches from our heads. Once we reached safety, we turned around and realized that we had lost Chloe, who took off running the other way. What we also realized was that we went the opposite direction as most protesters, and for bullets to come flying our way, meant that the Shock Troops had aimed at us, even though we were only 15 people running that way, and were clearly identified as media.
At this point, after following Chloe for about 3 hours, we decided that we had had enough, and that it wasn’t worth risking our lives and equipment to get additional footage of the protest. We ran as fast as we could and took a cab back towards downtown.
- On the other side of town
On the other side of town, the ambiance was completely different. The cab dropped us off at Paulista Ave., São Paulo’s main avenue, and the energy was 100% positive. At that time, the other half of our team had arrived at Villa Madalena, a neighborhood notorious for its lively bars and nightlife. At 2 o’clock, the streets were already packed with thousands of supporters from all over the world. As the opening ceremony approached, more and more people showed up. The party was beautiful, loud and colorful despite feeling overcrowded at times.
The team stayed there until the opening ceremony. For most Brazilians, this pre-event was an embarrassing disaster. The country of Carnaval settled for a mediocre and under-budgeted display. A lady next to us commented: “My children’s end-of-the-year school party is more impressive than that.” Needless to say, the performance of the official song of the World Cup was horrendous with a very poorly rehearsed playback. With so many beautiful Brazilian singers, why have Jennifer Lopez and Pitbul be part of this event? At least, now we know that the people’s money wasn’t spent on the opening ceremony…
An interesting fact about the opening ceremony that wasn’t broadcasted live was that Brazilian President, Dilma Rousseff, was heavily booed several times during the game. To be exact, 3 times during the ceremony, the people of the stadium chanted: “Hey Dilma, go f… yourself!”
- The game
Finally, the World Cup has started, and what a great game to kickoff the event. Brazil played Croatia in front of 61 000 people in the newly built Itaquerão Stadium, in São Paulo.
Brazil played great in the first half, despite falling behind early with an unfortunate own goal by left back Marcelo. Nonetheless, Brazil was superior throughout the game and managed to tie it before half time with a well-placed left footed kick from outside the box by Brazil’s main player Neymar.
The second half was another story. The game got very tight and both teams had significant chances of being in front, but it was Brazil that took the lead with a controversial penalty kick on the Brazilian center forward Fred. Even though on the replay you can obviously see that it was the correct call, one can argue that if the roles were reversed, the referee would not have called it in Croatia’s favor. Neymar scored the PK.
After that goal, Croatia still had many chances to tie the game but at the final minute Oscar managed to score a beautiful goal that gave the entire host country a breather. For Brazil, this was a great way to start off their campaign towards the title. The people are happy and the nation is building up confidence, which they seem to lack a few days ago.
Photo credits Shaan Coutre, and Elia Stein.