Paraplegic In ‘Iron Man’ Suit to Kick Off World Cup Amid Protests, Violence

Brazil may not have a functional public transit system when the World Cup begins on Thursday, but it will have a paraplegic teenager in a mind-controlled bionic suit making the opening kick.

The result of decades of work and millions of dollars, the exoskeleton will be making its debut in front of 65,000 people attending the first match.

“It’s the first time an exoskeleton has been controlled by brain activity and offered feedback to the patients,” said Brazilian doctor Miguel Nicolelis, leader of the Walk Again Project. “In 2009, after we learned Brazil was hosting the World Cup, they asked me for ideas to show Brazil in a different way than the world usually sees it. That’s when I suggested doing a scientific demonstration to teach people that Brazil is investing and has human potential to do things beyond football,” he said. (RELATED: Brazil Will Use Robots To Police The World Cup)

This stunning accomplishment may be overshadowed by the strikes, protests, crime and general instability that have plagued Brazil in recent years. According to Foreign Policy, Brazilians who can afford it have been fleeing the country in advance of the first match between Brazil and Croatia on Thursday, while others are stock-piling to avoid having to leave their homes for the duration.

The Brazilian government is increasingly nervous, with subway workers on strike in Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro (also hosting the 2016 Summer Olympics) in the midst of a murderous crime wave. Matches will occur in 12 cities throughout the country, including the capital, Brasilia, where police broke out tear gas to break up anti-World Cup protesters at the end of May, and at least one office took an arrow to the leg during the clash. (RELATED: Mayor of Rio Says Brazil Isn’t Ready For World Cup or Olympics Because Latins Are Lazy)

Another flagship project intended to show off Brazil’s technological development took a tragic turn Monday, when a man working on the Sao Paolo monorail project — originally intended to have been completed in time for the Cup, but behind schedule for years — was killed when part of the structure collapsed on top of him. According to the BBC, eight workers have died in accidents building the World Cup arenas.

Brazilian writer Milton Hatoum summed things up this way: “For the first time in my life there is no euphoria in the air at the prospect of a World Cup.”

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