Brazil 2014: Watch Your Head

By | November 19, 2013

Given today’s lecture regarding perceived World Cup host nation issues and media hype, I felt as though a post regarding the likelihood of fan violence during the 2014 World Cup was merited. Brian Phillips at Grantland already did much of the work for me on this topic in his article A Yellow Card, but I will give my take on the matter as well.

Significant impetus for the alarmist mentality many–media outlets and people alike–maintain about violence in Brazil stems from two cases of beheading that have occurred within the past six months. One was likely related to gang violence, while a contentious call, weapons, alcohol and a hoard of loving, if not overly aggressive, family members characterized the other. Without getting too much in the gritty details (Phillips is not so coy), these events are surely tragic and disturbing. Of course these two events also point to a greater trend in Brazil: that beheadings will now take the nation and, since the circumstances are so similar, the World Cup by storm, right? Yes, because that is definitely how statistics/probability works. Instead of relying on an objective, rational judgment, people as a whole will form their opinions based on what they read in the New York Times, CNN, USA Today, etc., who have each done their part in perpetuating these concerns. Can you really blame them for doing so? These are some of the most reputable newspapers in the United States, so it does not seem unfair to place credence in their opinion. Well, it is unfair. Violent crime in Brazil is definitely an issue, like it is in the USA, but I just cannot believe that beheadings, or any heinous crimes for that matter, will come to forefront of the World Cup once it actually starts. Political protests, police ineptitude, corruption, income disparity, and forced evictions of the poor from the favelas are much more important Brazilian contemporary issues of which few are aware relative to the beheadings.

Once the World Cup begins, barring extensive, irresponsible police riot control that could spur more violent protests, I think the motif that has been present since 1930 will reign supreme. Like in South Africa in 2010, when many feared murders and rapes, the better part of the world will momentarily forget about differences, strife, bigotry, fear, violence, anger, and so on for the love of a worldwide game. As we have learned through lectures and other blogs, soccer can be a unifying factor, and there is no event more unifying in the game than the World Cup.

In closing, some statistics: 49,900 people were murdered in Brazil, but almost none of those violent crimes involved foreigners, since those murders are virtually all motivated by intra-Brazilian issues. Robberies and thefts are somewhat of a concern for tourists. For example in 2008, 184 incidents like this were reported in Rio de Janeiro. Since many of these events go unreported, for the sake of argument, let us assume an upper bound of 1000 incidents. 2.82 million people visit Rio every year, therefore, according to this estimate, there was 1 incident for every 2,820 people. The probability of being robbed is strikingly low. Furthermore, these events have occurred in the absence of increased security that will accompany the World Cup. Another way to look at this issue is to consider the number of people in Brazil that play, follow, and bleed soccer–maybe slightly less that their overall population of 198.7 million people. That number alone should inform us that the Brazilians will prioritize soccer above violent beheadings, among other crimes, come summer 2014.

Ultimately, in spite of the media hype and alarm, millions will attend the World Cup in Brazil, and they will have the time of their life doing so.

Category: Brazil

About Jarrett Link

Currently a senior biomedical engineering student at Duke University, I am originally from Sacramento, CA, and my interest in soccer primarily stems from a summer spent in a small village in Bavaria called Murnau. During the working hours, I spent my time researching orthopedic biomechanics. Apart from that, I immersed myself in the culture around me. More often than not, that meant learning and playing the German brand of soccer--Fußball.

5 thoughts on “Brazil 2014: Watch Your Head

  1. Lindsey Barrett

    This is a detailed and thoughtful look at violence in Brazil, and while I found the information to be edifying, I also disagree slightly with the ultimate message. It’s certainly important to have a positive attitude going into an event as immense and impactful as the World Cup– but violence in Brazil is not only a grave social problem, as Ian pointed out, but it’s also a problem linked directly to soccer.

    This is a clip describing an incident in which a referee, after stabbing a player, was stoned and quartered, with his head driven into a stick and placed on the field. This was in July of this year, in Northern Brazil. Unfortunately I think it’s fair to say that a sunshine-and-rainbows soccer utopia is still a good ways off.

  2. Gilda Doria

    Great point. The news like to take whatever they can get their hands on and blow it out of proportion. Of course, there will be violence in Brazil during the World Cup, but like you stated in your post wherever you go there will be violence. I like how you took the statistics and put into perspective. More posts like these need to be made to calm people down and realize that Brazil isn’t going to turn out to be like everyone is saying. South Africa was given a lot of hype about its potential violence and it turned out to be just fine. We need to trust FIFA and Brazil to take appropriate measures to keep its fans and tourists safe.

  3. Colby Leachman

    I think you raise a good point but in the spirit of playing the Devils advocate, I think it is also a bit idealistic to purely view the 2014 WC as a transcendent unifying force. World Cups certainly unify people under the football umbrella but it is naive to think that unity exists without separation. Within the human ecosystem, separation is an inherent characteristic of unity. Hence, our separation into countries, nations, tribes, families etc.
    Because while we are all unified by football at the world cup, at the end of they day we are also separated nationality.

    One could even argue that the World Cup promotes nationalism. How could it not? when all the nations in the world are symbolically competing for a single championship trophy. Don’t get me wrong, the World Cup is truly great, but it does not over-ride the differences in culture, politics, and society around the world. This is why as the World Cup begins people we continue to talk about the beheading. For people in America, a beheading is something different and grabs our attention. And afterall, Media likes nothing more that a story that’s different or shocking because that is what sells. Furthermore, I agree that the article of the beheading may not tell the tale of the overall crime climate in Brazil but any single event rarely does. And yes as the tournament progresses the stories of beheadings will dwindle out because they will be replaced by other, more sought after news stories, such as scorelines and knockouts. However, that does not mean that foreigners will feel anymore safe. And that is simply human nature in a foreign environment. So while for brief moments people from Brazil, the U.S. and (by the skin of their teeth) France, will be united by football, it is niave to believe that this will be true throughout the entire 2 months of the 2014 WC.

  4. Patricia Spears

    Great point. It’s easy to get lost in the desire for readership and misconstrue the statistics in the interest of sensationalism I also think something that we talked about in class in relation to South Africa that would apply to Brazil is the careful watch of the world. For South Africa, they were on a positive international stage for the first time following apartheid, and were eager to prove to the world that they were not only competent and safe, but unified. While Brazillians definitely have a reputation already in place, and their populous is more willing to protest than come together, they are on a national stage in a different way due to their hosting of the Olympics. Given that this country will play host to two giant sporting events in such a short time, I think that the biggest risk, as mentioned above, will come from the police, not the people, in an effort to keep order. Even with this, the chances are so low, I think that Brazil will succeed in hosting without incident.

  5. Ian Bruckner

    Jarrett, I’m glad you wrote about Phillips’s piece on Grantland because this is the same piece I referred to in class today, so you saved me some time breaking it down for everyone. Like you do, I highly recommend reading this piece, Phillips places the media’s coverage of violence in an important perspective. However, I had a somewhat different takeaway from the piece than you did.
    To me, Phillips argues that the media, and therefore the public, overlooks and effectively ignores Brazil’s (and before it, South Africa’s) underlying social issues. If the rest of the world were to pay more attention to these issues, such as cyclical poverty, income inequality, overcrowded prisons et cetera, the Brazilian government might be pressured to try to fix some of these injustices, which often result in violence. As Phillips writes, “You’re free to notice that what really links the two beheadings in Brazil isn’t soccer and tourism but social problems that have nothing to do with soccer and tourism, except insofar as the World Cup might be making them worse.”
    By and large, the media is pairing violence in Brazil with the World Cup into a “sexy” story. This type of coverage neither stems violent crime in Brazil nor, as Phillips notes, does it dissuade tourists from traveling for the World Cup. The media could use the World Cup to shine a spotlight on Brazil’s entrenched social issues and be a force for positive change. Instead, as Jarrett mentions, the media is more focused on racking up page views.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *