Mídia NINJA: The Guerilla Reporters Exposing The True Cost Of Brazil's World Cup

There are layers of stories surrounding the World Cup which the billions won’t hear but Brazilians are uniting as never before to tell the planet about what's really going on...
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The World Cup trophy was in Toronto on Thursday as part of an 88 country, 267 day tour around the world. Brazil will host the tournament starting on June 12th and ending on July 13th.

The McDonnell Douglas MD83 aircraft that transports the trophy and its handlers is painted red with the Coca Cola logo on both sides of the jet. Coke is paying for it, so they get to choose the livery.

The trophy was set up in the atrium of the CBC, the state broadcaster in downtown Toronto. The great prize was enclosed in a custom-built glass case, surrounded by huge panels on all sides embossed with, you guessed it, the Coca-Cola logo. Admission is free, and you can get your picture taken with the trophy but you have to register your name and e-mail address with Coca Cola.

In 1986 when I was producing the inaugural televised World Cup tournament for TSN across Canada, the trophy was brought to Ottawa so that we could use it in any way we wished to promote the broadcasts. We draped black velvet on the walls and on a spinning turntable we put up a key light and a special filter on the lens to make it glisten as the cup spun around.

The video looked great and we used it every night as part of the opening for our show. No security, just hand me the trophy and remember to give it back. I only found out later that it was a replica, but oh well, at least I can say I held a World Cup in my hands.

Times have changed.

And what is happening in Brazil prior to the World Cup is both disturbing and enlightening.

Brazil has many problems arising directly from a huge increase in urban density.

Almost 90% of the population now lives in the cities, and the result is over-taxation and virtually non-existent infrastructure, poor roads and rancid health care, bad public transport and a vicious and incredible gap in wealth. Widespread poverty and untamed crime is the inevitable result.

The favelas, or shanty towns, so visible in cities like Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, are places I have seen, and are inevitably and unfortunately the image that people associate with Brazil.

The government is trying to change that image and bring Brazil's huge economic potential to the forefront by staging the two biggest sporting events on the planet, the World Cup later this year, and the Rio Olympics in 2016.

But the expense in building stadia at the cost of healthcare, better public transport and educational systems has caused a backlash quite unlike anything the world has seen before. And it is being achieved by two grassroots methods to make their voices heard. It is revolutionary, for sometimes progress (in the form of technological access) can be a good thing.

Large numbers of intelligent, determined and young people have created a collective called "Midia Ninja", which in Portuguese is an acronym for "Independent Narratives, Journalism and Action."

During last summer's massive protests through to the recent unrest and violent clashes in the streets of Brazil in January, Midia Ninja have been taking "citizen journalism" to new levels of coverage. They have also gained a role as protagonists.

When police beat and arrested several of the Ninja members, the public outcry increased. Even more people went into the streets.

Midia Ninja grew out of another unique collective called Fora do Eixo (Outside the Axis), a group of artists, musicians and purveyors of online content. Members live in shared casas with their own alternative economy.

I am in regular contact with one of the founders of FDE, Rafaela Villela, as well as with really talented writers like Yan Boechat and photographers like Eduardo Lima. They produce some truly excellent reportage and images.

Yan Boechat told me,

"Brazil has been very stable politically for the past thirty years. There is no room for a coup d'etat or something like that. But, things can turn violent, especially in the big towns, like Sao Paulo and Rio. People from the big cities are fed up with the shitty public transportation, bad health and education systems and with the violence of the police against the poor people. A lot of demands haven´t been addressed in the past years and all those people think - with a good amount of reason - that we shouldn't have had the World Cup. Add to this, all the corruption of FIFA and you know what can happen."

It really is amazing to hear stories of young people living together and putting into practice their ambition for a Utopian cultural economic system. In the face of the World Cup and the Rio Olympics, both Midia Ninja and the FDE want their message of economic and social reform brought to the forefront, as the world's attention is drawn to Brazil by these mega events.


Mídia Ninja is now present in 200 cities across Brazil, and in places where Fora do Eixo had previously established networks.  How do they do it? By using social media and the new portable technologies widely available around the world like Twitcasting, live streaming video on Twitter or Facebook.

They have their own channel PosTV. They use Tumblr, Google Plus, Instagram and Flickr, and of course, Facebook.

They have been seen toting around a shopping cart with a generator, speakers, a computer and an editing table, providing instant news that was not only spontaneous but vastly different than what was being seen on the nation's conventional broadcasters.

This resonated with people who caught it all on-line. Even Rio's Mayor Eduardo Paes granted Midia Ninja an interview, which was widely criticized by more established journalists as an affront to their profession.

It seems to me the more I speak to members of these various collectives, the more I realize how truly groundbreaking their achievements are. And with the World Cup just months away, the protests will not just continue, they could grow out of control.

"This World Cup will be unique for a lot of reasons," Yan told me.

"For sure things will get hot down here in the coming months. I´m not that sure that during the World Cup, we will see huge protests as people are expecting. I think it all depends on the way the security forces will deal with the situation. More violence, more protests. There´s one thing that might turn things really bad, and that is we have a very stiff presidential elections this year. The left-wing party, called PT (The Workers' Party - Portuguese: Partido dos Trabalhadores), is trying to win the presidency for the fourth consecutive time. The people, specifically the poor outside the big cities, are very happy with the government. Inflation is under control, salaries have been going up for years and the unemployment rate is at a record low. The "elite" parties will try everything to destabilise the country during the World Cup. At the same time, people who are going to the streets are against those parties. But you know, on the streets, with big crowds, everything can happen. "

I've covered four World Cups but have never seen such an organised and popular effort to speak out against the cost of staging such events.

In an interview with The Guardian newspaper in the UK, founding member Bruno Torturra was quoted as saying:

"It is the year of Brazil. Even we don't know exactly what is happening right now. The World Cup is a horrible idea. I think the government now realises that, but it's too late to stop it. The cost is so huge. It's proven to be a lie that the World Cup brings better infrastructure and leaves a legacy. The only legacy is more expensive stadia and a lot of public money gone in to the toilet. We're in a really good position to cover it in a different way, not only for Brazil but the world," he says. "I'm planning to make Mídia Ninja a stream in English and Spanish as well, so people of the world can hear a different narrative from the World Cup; from a point of view of people on the street, not the stadia or the press. We're not interested in the football. That will be more than covered by other people."

Brazilians passion for soccer is much like how we Canadians feel about hockey. To the exponential n.  If Brazil does well in the tournament, which they should, soccer will predominate.

If not, there is the potential for mass civic unrest and political upheaval with the Presidential elections slated for later in 2014. And all the way through it, the citizen journalists of Midia Ninja will be beaming it across the world.

Even former World Cup stars are speaking out. Romario was a member of the Brazilian team that won the 1994 World Cup in the USA and also won FIFA World Player of the Year and the Golden Boot that same year.


In an earlier op-ed piece for the Guardian, Romario said, "These protests will strengthen our democratic culture. It is the voice from the streets; one that will lead to the strengthening of our judiciary. And it couldn't come at a more timely moment: with the legislation currently weak, corruption is rife -- and those who steal from the public are let off the hook. As a congressman for the Brazilian Socialist party (PSB), I am comfortable being so critical of the state of the law in my country, because for a long time I have not shied away from pointing out the abuses that take place around here.’’

Gilberto Silva, a former star with Arsenal, has also brought attention to the state of Brazilian football by starting a players’ union called "Common Sense FC" that has threatened to stage a strike in April.  Silva speaks of players not getting paid, atrocious fields to play on, shabby lighting for night games, bad dressing rooms and especially roving gangs of the football "Ultras", hooligans who threaten players with violence and who are organized by some club owners to suit their own political agenda by forcing people to vote a certain way.

"The Ultra question has now become important," Gilberto told the Guardian. "We are fully aware that not every supporter is a thug and not every club ignores their activities. We know there are clubs who use Ultras for political reasons and even subsidize them with tickets and travel expenses but, while this is not illegal, we can't accept intimidation by these groups and it is crucial to give a robust response to the events of the past month.

Since September, more than a thousand footballers have joined Common Sense.

"It has crossed my mind that my activism might be closing doors for me, but if that's the price to pay for these issues to become public, I will happily pay it," says Gilberto. "The players know our movement will add up to negative news linked to the World Cup but it is important we get our message across. People abroad need to know what is going on".

There are layers of stories surrounding this summer's World Cup, which the billions won’t hear. Brazilians are uniting as never before to tell the planet about what is going on in their country, for before the stage is ready for the main event, they are determined to lift the curtain on the truth.

Follow Vac on Twitter, @VacVerikaitis

Vaclovas F. Verikaitis (Vac) is a television producer who has worked in over 40 different countries. He has been a senior member of the production staff on some of the biggest events in the world including the Olympic Games, Formula One motor racing and the World Cup of soccer. He continues to work as an advocate in the social justice field and has recently directed several short films on the subject.