As we get closer to the October presidential election, the attacks on the World Cup become increasingly irrational and sectarian. Criticism is part of the democratic life, but certain sectors seem to be rooting for failure.
When I was president of Brazil, I worked hard so that the 2014 World Cup were held in Brazil. And I didn’t do it for economic or political reasons, but for what soccer represents to all peoples and particularly to the Brazilian people.
Our population enthusiastically supported the idea, rejecting the elitist prejudice of those who say that an event of this magnitude “is something reserved for rich countries”, and forget that Uruguay, Chile, Mexico, Argentina, South Africa and Brazil itself have already hosted successfully this event.
Soccer is the only real universal sport, practiced and loved in all countries, by people of the most different classes, ethnicities, cultures and religions.
And perhaps no other country in the world has its identity so linked to football as Brazil. The sport here was not only assimilated, but somehow also transfigured by the ginga and by the mixing of Brazilian races. Through the feet of descendants of Africans soccer gained a new rhythm, beauty and art.
For many years, it was one of the few spaces, along with popular music, in which blacks could show their talent, facing with libertarian joy the racial discrimination. That’s why soccer and music are often the first things a foreigner mentions when speaking of Brazil.
For us, soccer is more than a sport, it’s a national passion, which goes far beyond the professional clubs. Millions of people practice it, as amateurs, in their day to day lives, in backyards, in vacant lots, in beaches, in parks, in public squares, in the streets of the suburbs, in the schools’ courtyards and in the factories.
Wherever there is an available area, no matter how small, a soccer match is improvised. If you don’t have a leather ball, you play it with a plastic ball, a rubber one or one made of cloth. When nothing else is available, even an empty tin can will do.
In 1958, in Sweden, a spectacular national team charmed the planet, winning our first world title in soccer. I was twelve, and gathered a group of friends to listen to the final match in an amateur soccer field with a small battery radio.
Our fantasy made up for the lack of pictures with some to spare, while the voice of the announcer took us on a trip. We were carried by a magic carpet inside the Råsunda Stadium in Stockholm. And there we were not just spectators, but players… I dreamed of being a soccer player, not the president of Brazil.
The great writer Nelson Rodrigues, our greatest playwright, said that with that victory won by ball whizzes like Pelé, Garrincha and Didi Brazil had overcome its “mutt complex”. And what kind of complex is this? “It’s inferiority – he said – in which the Brazilian places itself, voluntarily, in the face of the world”. Daring to be champion, it was as if Brazil were telling itself and other countries: “Yes, we can be as good as anyone.”
At that time, Brazil was starting its industrialization, it had created its own oil company and its development bank, the popular classes were democratically demanding better living conditions and bigger participation in the decisions of the country – but the privileged sectors said that this was a very serious mistake, the result of “politicking” or “ultra-leftism”, since it had already been proven that there was no oil in our territory and we had no need for social inclusion and much less for a domestic industry.
Some went as far as to say that a backward and mestizo nation like ours filled with “ignorant and lazy” people, according to a widespread stereotype within and outside the country – should get used to its underling destiny without getting impossible dreams of economic progress and social justice.
In fact, it is not easy to overcome the “mutt complex”. We were a colony for more than 320 years, and the worst legacy of this condition is the persistence of the colonized mentality of voluntary servitude…
Between 1958 and 2010, we won five World Championships in soccer. We are so far the nation with the largest number of titles won. But best of all is that the healthy chutzpah of the Brazilian people was not limited to the sports field.
The Brazil that the world will meet starting June 12 is a country very different from the one that hosted the 1950 World Cup, when it lost in the final to Uruguay. It still has its problems and challenges, some quite complex, like any other nation, but is no longer the eternal “country of the future”.
The country today is more prosperous and equitable than it was six decades ago. Among other reasons because our people – especially those who live “downstairs” – have freed themselves from elitist and colonialist prejudices and started to believe in themselves and in the possibilities of the country.
They found that, in addition to winning world soccer competitions, they could also win hunger, poverty, backwardness and social inequality. That miscegenation, far from being an obstacle – worse: a stigma – is one of the greatest treasures of our country.
It is this new Brazil that will host the World Cup. A country that is already the seventh economy on the planet and that, in little more than ten years, lifted 36 million people from misery and brought 42 million to the middle class. It is the country with the lowest unemployment rates in its history.
That, according to the OECD, among all the countries of the world, was one that made one of the biggest investment in education in recent years . A country that prides itself on all these achievements, but does not hide its problems, and strives to resolve them.
Recently, the World Cup has become the object of a fierce political and electoral struggle. As the October presidential election gets closer, the attacks on the event become increasingly irrational and sectarian. The criticism, of course, is part of the democratic life.
When made with honesty, it helps improve the country’s preparedness for this great sporting event. But certain sectors seem to want the failure of the World Cup, as if they depended on this to have a chance in the ballot box.
And they don’t hesitate to disseminate false information that sometimes is reproduced by the international press, which doesn’t take the time to check its veracity. The country, however, is prepared, both inside and outside of the field, to perform a good World Cup – and will do so.
Our national team has been the only one to participate in all 19 editions of the World Cup and we’ve always been very well received in other countries. The time has come to pay back with typically Brazilian hospitality and joy.
The demand for tickets has been strong, with orders from more than 200 countries. This is an extraordinary opportunity for thousands of visitors to know more deeply the best Brazil has to offer: its people.
The importance of the World Cup is not just economic or commercial. In fact, the world will meet in Brazil at the invitation of soccer. The gathering will show once again that the idea of a peaceful and fraternal international community is not a utopia.
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is a former president of Brazil, who now works in global initiatives through the Lula Institute, He can be followed on facebook.com/lula.