A week ago, we published a stunning photo by Getty’s Mario Tama of a smartly dressed Brazilian soccer fan sleeping on the sidewalk under a plastic sheet. (See: Between an Electrifying World Cup and Bodies on the Ground: Mario Tama in Brazil). Combining innocence and color with a hint of the morgue, the photo seemed to blend the excitement of this World Cup with so much pain and ill will over its social and political cost.
With Brazil reaching the Cup semi-finals, there has been a sense all along, highlighted by the protests that set the table for the games, that the country could not come through the tournament without enduring certain trials, weighed down perhaps by the cost to common good. As if channeling Tama’s photo, a pair of physical events took place in Brazil this past week, one athletic and the other involving infrastructure, that seemed to cross that intersection. Strangely enough, they both exploited structural vulnerabilities. The loss of Neymar, Brazil’s top star, and the damage to his vertebrae has been seen as the culmination (and perhaps, the moral consequence) of a game in which Brazil’s overly aggressive play against Columbia was never contained by a passive (and perhaps intimidated) referee. As for the other crushing blow, the collapse of an unfinished overpass in Belo Horizonte, one of the host cities, which occurred before rush hour and caused one death, could have been far worse. The symbolism, however — of the cost of overbuilding and rushed construction for this singular event — was blatantly obvious.
Perhaps countries will continue to bleed themselves and their citizens to secure and conduct these lavish international sporting events. If there is a lesson to be drawn from Brazil, however (especially with this World Cup just the prelude to Brazil’s ’16 Olympics) it’s hard to imagine the fallout, or the symbolism of that fallout, becoming less visible.
(photo 1: Zuma Press. photo 2: Victor R. Caivano/AP. caption: An unfinished overpass collapsed in the Brazilian World Cup host city of Belo Horizonte, leaving at least one person dead and casting a shadow over a tournament that has suffered repeated construction accidents and delays.)