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The shirts may create a sea of yellow and green among home-country fans at a World Cup match between Brazil and Croatia in Sao Paulo earlier this month, but the faces are almost uniformly white. (Felipe Dana/Associated Press)
The shirts may create a sea of yellow and green among home-country fans at a World Cup match between Brazil and Croatia in Sao Paulo earlier this month, but the faces are almost uniformly white. (Felipe Dana/Associated Press)

Brazilians confront race and inequality through the World Cup Add to ...

When David Santos joins colleagues and friends to watch World Cup games these days – at street parties in the low-income periphery of Sao Paulo – he scans the images of the stands on the big TV screens in hope. But he’s pretty sure what he will see.

“At these games, you will count more black people on the field than in all the stands,” he says with a sigh. “It’s FIFA apartheid.”

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Friar David is a Franciscan and the president of Educafro, which works for racial equality. His organization has been trying for more than a year to make sure that the Cup would reflect Brazil’s diversity. But, he says, that effort was a crashing failure. The Brazilian fans in the stands at Cup games are almost entirely white – even though 54 per cent of Brazilians identify as black or mixed-race.

“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,” says Carlos Costa Ribeiro, a sociologist who studies race and inequality at the State University of Rio de Janeiro. “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.”

Brazil has seen enormous social and political change over the past 15 years, but the correlation between wealth and race remains absolute, he says, while the cultural barriers to better education and employment for black and mixed-race Brazilians remain largely unchanged. And it has become apparent in the past two weeks that the World Cup, in its official incarnation, is for rich people. The bulk of tickets were sold for between $90 and $990 – while minimum wage in Brazil is $330 a month. Forty-one per cent of black and mixed-race Brazilians earn minimum wage, according to the national census, while 61 per cent of those unemployed for a year or more are black.

After Friar David and his colleagues at Educafro saw the nearly all-white stadiums during the Confederations Cup, played here a year ago as a precursor for the World Cup, they wrote to FIFA to ask that organizers make sure this event would be different by setting aside 20 to 30 per cent of tickets for black Brazilians.

FIFA secretary-general Jerome Valcke replied that the donated and low-cost tickets would ensure that “white, black, indigenous and immigrants” would have “the same opportunities to enjoy the event” but he declined to reserve a set block of seats.

“The biggest portion of tickets were sold through lotteries, making the chances equal and fair for every Brazilian or foreign fan,” he wrote. “FIFA has created conditions for everyone who is interested, in every social class, to watch the games.”

It did not look that way when Brazil played Mexico in Fortaleza last week: Ticket-holders entered the stadium through a long, narrow path that cuts through the surrounding low-income neighbourhood. The fans in their festive green-and-yellow on their way in the doors were almost uniformly white. And their entry route was lined with black and mixed-race Brazilians (also in their Brazil jerseys), watching them go in.

“People who came from outside are getting a weird picture of Brazil because Brazil really is a mix of black and white and brown,” says Jorge Fernando Vasconcellos. He caught the most recent Brazil game at a street party on the edge of Rio. He wore a green-and-yellow clown wig, a Brazil team jersey, and the orange trousers from his uniform as a city sanitation worker. The crowd he joined was a mix of skin tones, and it is at parties like these that most lower-income Brazilians are experiencing the Cup. “I knew I wouldn’t be able to buy tickets – it would take my whole budget,” he says.

Some Brazilians have gone so far as to suggest that the disproportionate presence of rich people (who don’t regularly go to city club football matches, as Mr. Vasconcellos does) is undermining the quality of the games – atmospherically and in the level of play.

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