BRASILIA:  Dilma Rousseff has sought to pour calming words on the troubled waters of protest which have exacerbated concerns over the country’s role at the centre of international sport writes KEIR RADNEDGE.

Brazil’s President also hopes that the the scrapping of bus fare increases plus the national team’s progress to the semi-finals of the Confederations Cup – along with Italy – may ease tension on the streets.

This may be over-optimistic. Police deployed tear gas in Fortaleza tonight in a bid to prevent demonstrators in Fortaleza marching on the new stadium at which Uruguay were due to play Nigeria.

Clearly the underlying concerns will not go away because the Confed Cup speaks to the issues arousing so much ire. That prompted a worried Rousseff to cancel a visit to Japan to deal, hands-on, with the escalating crisis of confidence in her government.

The Confed Cup has become a lightning conduct for increasining unrest – and a mask for some hooliganism – as the first internationally-profiled demonstration of how Brazil is approaching the challenge of hosting both the World Cup and Olympic Games in the next three years.

The weight of the cost has come as a sudden shock to Brazilians as they perceive the country’s economy stagnating, costs rising and little being done to improve services, lower crime rates or deal with corruption issues.

Major cities

Hence more than 200,000 people have taken to the streets of half a dozen major cities including Sao Paulo which will stage the World Cup’s Opening Match next year and Rio de Janeiro whose Maracana is a central venue both this and next year.

Rio will also host the Olympics in 2016, the first city in South America entrusted with the Games.

Opinion is divided within football about the value to the game of the Confed Cup but most of the competing nations hope to be back next year for the World Cup and view the experience as invaluable learning experience for administrative and technical staff and players.

This applies to visiting initial winners Nigeria, Italy and world/European champions Spain as well even for vanquished Japan plus Brazil’s fellow Latin Americans Uruguay and Mexico. Only for minnows Tahiti is this a one-off adventure.

Neymar inspiration

For Scolari’s team the Confed Cup is crucial. Brazil, at risk of falling out of the world’s top 20 for the first time ever, needed to raise their game to regain the trust of local support.

Pele had been constrained to appeal before the Cup for fans to be patient and contain their readiness to jeer when moves should break down or passes go astray. Happily Neymar has scored early in each of the victories over Japan and Mexico.

Rousseff and her Ministers will be hoping that results continue to go Scolari’s way. The country’s first woman leader appreciates, as a left-wing activist in her early years, where the protesters are coming from in political terms.

She spoke out on Wednesday when goals from Neymar and Jo lifted Luiz Felipe Scolari’s hosts to a 2-0 win over Mexico while Italy won a topsy-turvy, error-riddled drama 4-3 against Japan. Both Brazil and Italy thus reached the semi-finals with  a game in hand.

Her emollient words were aimed, in vain it seemed, to redufe temperatures inflamed by the panicking police’s excessive use of tear gas and water cannon last week.

“The greatness of yesterday’s demonstrations bears proof to the power of our democracy, to the strength of the voices from our streets and to the civility of our population,” said Rousseff.

National pride

“It is good to see so many young people and adults – grandchildren, parents and grandparents – gathering around the Brazilian flag, singing the national anthem, proudly saying: ‘I am Brazilian,’ in their struggle for a better country.

“Brazil is proud of them. We must praise the peaceful nature of the acts of yesterday. The peaceful character of yesterday’s events also showed the proper action of the public security institutions to ensure the people’s free demonstration, coexisting peacefully.”

She condemned “isolated acts of violence” and acknowledged that “these voices from our streets must be heard [in demanding] more citizenship, better schools, better hospitals, better health centres and the right to participation.”

Perhaps missing the irony, Rousseff also recognised the protesters’ demands “for high-quality and affordable public transportation.”

After all, was that not supposed to be a legacy of bringing the World Cup and Olympics to Brazil?

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