French football legend Lilian Thuram has expressed sympathy with Brazilian protesters threatening to disrupt the World Cup, saying he understands their anger over the tournament’s multi-billion-dollar price tag.
The 42-year-old star of France’s 1998 World Cup-winning side told AFP during a visit to Rio de Janeiro that protesting over the cost of the World Cup was understandable given the country’s creaking infrastructure.
“I am not Brazilian so I would not join the protesters – but I understand them totally,” Thuram told AFP on Monday when asked if he supported the demonstrators.
“When you live in a country that has problems with health care and education, those are going to be more of a priority for some people than building stadiums.
“It seems evident to me that these people are denouncing the money spent on stadiums rather than on hospitals.”
Brazil was rocked by large-scale violent protests during the Confederations Cup tournament last year, with activists railing against the billions of dollars being spent on preparations for this year’s World Cup while vital public services remain poor.
Thuram, speaking during a visit to Rio’s sprawling Complexo do Alemao slum, said he had been surprised by the “violence and division in Brazilian society.”
“In France, we generally have an idealistic image of Brazil, where everyone lives happily together, a multicultural country where everyone dances the samba,” said Thuram, who was born on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe.
“But it is not the case. There is an incredible contrast between the city centre and the favelas. They are different worlds.
“Ninety per cent of the population are Afro-Brazilian, but when we read the newspaper we see clearly that white people predominate,” said Thuram.
“It’s not what you hope for when you come to Brazil.”
Thuram is the most capped footballer in French history with 142 international appearances.
He retired from the sport in 2008 but has maintained a busy schedule since, working as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, engaging in political issues in France and curating an exhibition at Paris’s Musee du quai Branly.