Confed Cup turns into a flash point for Brazil
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) -Brazil's football players achieved victory inside the stadium, and Brazil's protesters found a measure of success outside it.
In many ways, the first Confederations Cup in Brazil turned out to be something of a flash point. As thousands of fans cheered wildly Sunday during the national team's 3-0 victory over Spain in the final, thousands of their countrymen took to the streets near the landmark Maracana Stadium in protest against rampant corruption, demanding education and health care reforms at the same time as police shot tear gas at them.
Added to the mix of grievances is the government spending on hosting next year's World Cup and the 2016 Rio Olympics - both expensive endeavors that will cost the country billions of dollars.
The reality is that, with the World Cup less than a year away, both the local organizers and FIFA are facing a potential crisis if the anti-government sentiment persists.
"The reasons people are out on the street are not going to go away overnight,'' said Eliane Milazzo, a 54-year-old high school teacher marching with her daughter and son-in-law. "I know I will continue to go to the streets and so will my family until we see real changes in our everyday lives.''
FIFA President Sepp Blatter was asked about the unrest on Friday, and declined to answer. On Sunday, FIFA was asked about the police using tear gas on demonstrators near the stadium, with some of the fumes wafting onto the grounds of the Maracana.
Again, no comment.
The protests in Brazil started at about the same time as the Confederations Cup tournament, an eight-team event that serves as a dress rehearsal for the following year's World Cup.
Although the mass demonstrations around the country never really affected the play on the field, it certainly overshadowed some of the games as police and protesters at times clashed violently. They did so again on Sunday.
In short, the protesters want better health care, better education, and an end to corruption. All worthy demands indeed.
So quite smartly, although seemingly coincidentally, they chose the Confederations Cup as the time to strike, drawing attention to their demands as the international media descended on Brazil to watch "The Beautiful Game.''
The players and the coaches weighed in on the protests over the two-week tournament. And even Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who has suffered the brunt of the political damage, was forced to address the nation.
Her words did little to stem the outrage.
"People are angry with Congress, angry with the terrible hospitals and worse schools,'' said Tania Nobrega, a 56-year-old psychologist protesting Sunday near the Maracana. "But they don't want Dilma's head. People are sick of the status quo here, and that means they're fed up not only with the (ruling Workers Party) but also with all parties.''
Many people around the world look at Brazil as a sort of party country. The sun and sand of Rio, the samba music, the caipirinhas, it all supposedly adds up to a good time.
But the truth can be quite different. Despite a surging economy and a place in the BRIC countries along with Russia, India and China, the South American nation still has woeful public services and a heavy tax burden.
That won't change Monday. But what remains to be seen is if the demonstrations will simmer down once the TV cameras that came for the Confederations Cup have shut down and flown home.
Rousseff appears to be hoping the problems will go away along with the Confederations Cup. She hasn't even commented on the latest protests, but she did take time to send out a statement of congratulations for the country's football team.
After all, football in Brazil is a pretty big deal.
"Throughout their remarkable campaign, our athletes have shown joy, creativity, team spirit and unity that have won over all Brazilians, and have given the world a great spectacle,'' Rousseff said.
The reality around the country, however, appears to be quite the opposite.
AP Sports Writer Rob Harris and Associated Press writer Jenny Barchfield contributed to this report.