The 2014 World Cup was marred with riots on its first day as crowds of Brazilians angry with the nation’s extravagant spending to host the soccer tournament clashed with police in Sao Paolo.
Police fired rubber bullets and doused crowds with pepper spray in clashes that coincided with the first match of the tournament on Thursday.
Many of the World Cup protesters are demanding better public services from the Brazilian government, and have decried the large spending that went into preparing to host the tournament. The nation spent more than $11 billion preparing for the tournament, yet many areas lack basic necessities like proper access to health care.
The World Cup riots nearly disrupted the tournament itself, as protesters tried to block part of the main highway leading to the stadium where the opening match was held.
Some of the protests were organized by the group Black Bloc, masked demonstrators who also led protests at last year’s Confederations Cup in Brazil. Those involved said Black Bloc had been planning for months to target the World Cup.
“There are a lot of people, and not just those who believe in Black Bloc tactics, who are saving their energy for the World Cup,” one protester, who went by just Elizabeth, told AFP in a rare interview.
Elizabeth added that World Cup protesters are seeking basic improvements to public transportation, education, and health care.
“A lot of people die in line at the hospital,” says Elizabeth, who lost her mother to lupus 10 years ago.
Black Bloc was the same group that led protests at the 1999 World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle, which was seen as a watershed moment for those opposing the globalization movement. It traces its roots back to Germany in the 1980s.
Many have remained upbeat despite the increasingly violent protests. The tournament has drawn an estimated 800,000 foreign fans to Brazil, and on Thursday the mood was festive despite the sporadic clashes between police and protesters.
The future could hold more turmoil, however. Many are expecting the World Cup riots to continue as the tournament progresses, and experts are worried that Brazil could be plagued by the same issues for the 2014 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.