As the World Cup approaches, FIFA officials have asked Brazilians to avoid political protests, warning that they could tarnish the multi-billion dollar event.
But Neymar da Silva is not too concerned.
Brazil’s 22-year-old star striker, who plays for Spanish giants Barcelona, told CNN en Español on Tuesday that protests during the World Cup are fine as long as they are peaceful.
“My opinion about protests is that there shouldn’t be a problem with that, as long as they are conducted peacefully, without violence and vandalism,” Neymar said during a promotional event.
“If the objective is for Brazil to improve, people must protest,” Neymar added in his brief remarks on the subject.
Protests over transport fees, corruption and lack of social spending exploded in Brazil last May, just a few weeks before the country hosted the FIFA Confederations Cup.
The protesting carried on into the tournament — which acts as a rehearsal of sorts for the World Cup — with protesters unsuccessfully attempting to block the entrances to some stadiums.
Protests no longer have the intensity and frequency they had last summer. But as the inauguration of the World Cup approaches, there have been sporadic demonstrations across Brazil against corruption, poor public services and World Cup spending, which exceeds $6 billion on stadiums alone.
FIFA has acknowledged that Brazilians have the right to demonstrate. But officials have expressed concerns that protests could become violent. Earlier this week for example, five buses were burned in Rio de Janeiro in response to an incident in which a teenager was killed by police.
The world soccer association has encouraged Brazilians to support the World Cup, instead of protesting.
"[It's] the wrong time [to protest] because it is a time where Brazil should enjoy a unique time, a time they have not enjoyed since 1950,” FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke said after visiting Brazil in December.
"We are not asking [them] to support Fifa, we are asking [them] to support the World Cup. We are asking [them] to support an event they won five times already and they dream to win for the first time at home."
Brazil’s national coach, Luis Felipe Scolari, has also expressed concern about the protests, arguing in a recent interview with Globo TV that the World Cup “might not be the best moment” to stage protests because it could distract his players and affect their performance.
Protesters disagree, and will be seeking the World Cup’s spotlight to bring greater attention to their causes.
Brazilian singer Edu Krieger even mentions Neymar in a recent song about the World Cup protests. “Sorry Neymar, but in this World Cup I will not cheer for you,” the song says.
Manuel Rueda is a correspondent for Fusion, covering Mexico and South America. He travels from donkey festivals, to salsa clubs to steamy places with cartel activity.