(Jonas Bendiksen/Magnum)

The Unbearable Whiteness of FIFA

The World Cup fans outside the stadiums look a lot more diverse than those inside

By Sean Jacobs

One Brazilian blogger described the World Cup crowds as being “whiter than Norway.” A new poll published in the Folha de S. Paulo, the country’s leading broadsheet, on Sunday proved him right: at Saturday’s Brazil-Chile match in Belo Horizonte, “67 percent of attendees were white and 90 percent came from Brazil’s top economic classes.”

This, of course, goes against Brazil’s view of itself. “More than half of Brazil’s population identified themselves as black or of mixed race in the 2010 census,” according to the AP. (Only Nigeria has a larger black population.) The country built its World Cup marketing campaign around its pride at being a “mixed nation.”

Yet the Cup was always going to expose some of the fissures at the base of Brazilian society. This is among the most unequal places in the world (the country of my birth, South Africa, competes with them regularly for this prize). There are very few black people among Brazil’s rich.

Football is no different. While Brazil’s team is relatively mixed (the star player Neymar is partly of African descent), the team’s coaching staff and the top brass at the football association are mostly white.

Under the regimes of the previous president, Lula, and his successor Dilma Roussef, Brazil has lifted millions of people out of poverty, but they still can’t afford the tickets. The Globe and Mail reports that most tickets were sold for between $90 and $990, while minimum wage in Brazil is $330 a month. As Boima Tucker, a Rio-based writer, has noted: the people who reflect multi-racial Brazil are mostly experiencing the Cup as the supporting staff, waiters, cleaners, and hotel workers. And, like South Africa 2010, they are enjoying the games at open air screenings, in local bars, in their houses, realistic about their chances of ever getting inside a stadium.

Still, it is jarring seeing these mostly-white scenes on our TV screens. David Santos, the president of Educafro, a pro-equality organization, told The Globe and Mail: “You can’t say it is racial discrimination—it would be discrimination if they didn’t sell a ticket to a black person, and that’s not what happened. What happened is that most blacks are poor and they couldn’t buy tickets because they’re expensive. But why are blacks not rich? Because there is discrimination.”

It’s worth noting what happened in the lead-up to the Cup, which is perhaps more illuminating about the ordinariness of racism in Brazil. For the official tournament draw in November, the organizers decided to change the two main presenters at the last minute. Some defenders of FIFA’s decision suggested it had to do “with sponsorships” and “standards of English.” But Brazilians, especially black Brazilians used to this kind of thing, could not help noticing that the original presenters—two well-known soap actors—happened to be black and mixed race. Their replacements happened to be white and blond.

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