With the World Cup now underway, there is an eager interest as to who will emerge as the heroic and outstanding figure, will it be Ronaldo, Messi, Neymar (Rooney even?) Which team will overcome adversity and be revered and acknowledged as the world leaders? The winners won't emerge until the final is played. But, for me, the true heroes of this competition, the world leaders, have already emerged. They remain unnamed and unknown, those taking to the streets to protest and seeking to make their mark on the world. These brave people are humbling us all by reminding us about our priorities and the meaning of democracy.
A journalist described Brazil as a fledgling democracy, and the strain of hosting the World Cup is testing its' commitment to such principles to the extreme. The demonstrators are exercising their democratic right to protest and seeking to be heard. This is not an unreasonable request, nor is it a new quest. In the early years of democracy in the UK, the Chartists, other radical organisations, and trades unions played a vital role in trying to secure a decent living wage for ordinary workers, and to ensure their voices were heard, not suppressed.
These democratic heroes are also reminding us of the interconnectedness of this struggle. It is a global issue, particularly when it comes to football. The pampered players ride in their bulletproof luxury coaches with police guards through the devastating poverty of the major cities of Brazil. The footballs they kick, the kit they wear, and most of the accompanying merchandise, probably being made by child labour in deprived countries.
We may delude ourselves that this is an exploitation problem in developing countries, but it is not. Britain is one of the most unequal countries in the western world, our gap between rich and poor is as great as in Nigeria. We are divided just as starkly into exploiters and exploited. The privileged few maintaining a status quo which is incredibly unjust.
Footballers and the crazy gang of FIFA administrators enjoy a very privileged place in our society which they are exploiting and perpetuating with little or no regard for the common fans and supporters. They seem immune to the clamour outside their ivory towers.
When I first started watching 'the people's game' the players were paid about the same as the spectators. There was a common bond between the players and the fans which created the almost tribal loyalties to club and community. This loyalty was felt by the staff, managers, players and supporters and led to very strong bonds and allegiances. The coming of the Premier League has introduced multi-million pound investments and inducements, which have torn apart these community bonds, and enable the players and managers to ply their trade through their agents grabbing the readily available percentages.
Football is no longer the people's game. So, it is no wonder that many of the people of the football mad country of Brazil are protesting against the hosting of the World Cup. Their voices must be not only be heard, but also listened to. They can see better, more principled, uses for the money, they are reminding us all of the inequalities and exploitation which has become all too familiar and we ignore at our peril.