31 March 2010

Fueling the Spectacle, the Eike Batista way

Class One World Powerboat Championship, Rio de Janeiro, 26-28 March, 2010

Given my experience doing a consecutive translation for David Harvey at the Urban Social Forum last week, I thought I’d try my hand a written consecutive translation. Apologies for errors in both languages.

Porque tive a experiência de fazer uma tradução consecutivo pelo David Harvey no Fórum Social Urbano a semana passada, eu pensei em tentar fazer o mesmo com minhas próprias palavras. Desculpem os errores em ambos idiomas. 

This weekend Rio de Janeiro hosted the first race of the 2010 Class-1 World Powerboat Championship at the Marina da Gloria, which I can see from my apartment window. Early Saturday morning, I was jolted awake by the screaming engines of the boats and three helicopters circling overhead filming the scene. I had watched some of the time trials via binoculars the previous day and was almost numbed by the obvious: Class One powerboat racing is a sport for the rich, practiced by the rich, in order to stay that way.

Esse fim de semana o Rio de Janeiro cedeu a primeira carreira da temporada 2010 de Class-1 World Powerboat Championship na Marina da Gloria, a qual posso ver da janela de meu apartamento. Sábado pela amanha os gritos dos barcos me davam solavancos enquanto três helicópteros sobrevoavam filmando a cena. Eu tinha visto alguns das corridas preliminares na sexta-feira, e eu me quase senti entorpecido pelo óbvio – Classe One é um esporte pelos ricos, praticado pelos ricos, para permanecer rico.

But I figured that it couldn’t be that obvious, so I hustled down to Flamengo Beach to see what was going on. To my surprise, there were thousands of people lining the water’s edge watching the boats scream past. Truth is, it was pretty cool, because these boats are hitting 250 km an hour and were flying past the beach with a power that you could feel inside your chest. It was also free although the public space of the beach was occupied with huge television installations and a sound system that would make Axle Rose cry for mercy.

Mas eu achava que o evento não pode ser tão óbvio, porém eu corri até a Praia do Flamengo para ver o que estava acontecendo. Me causou sopresa ver miles de pessoas em pé à beira-mar olhando os barcos passando as pressas. A verdade é que foi bacana, porque esses barcos estão picando 250 km por horas e estavam voando pertinho a praia com um poder mecânico que podia sentir no seu peito. Também, era de graça, mais o espaço público da praia estava ocupado com duas telas imensas e um sistema de som que faria Axle Rose chorar pelo tiro de misericórdia.

This is what the production of a hollow spectacle is all about, however. The only way to react to the incredible power and world-class elegance of a boat flying across the waves is to shake your head and think – wouldn’t it be cool to go for a ride? There’s no point in cheering for one boat to go faster than another. There is no mechanism for active participation, even the sound system takes away your ability to converse (the same as stadiums in the USA). It’s impossible to have deeply-felt team allegiances. The clarion call of consumption creates capitalistic cravings that co-opt collective capacity. The race has winners, of course, but do the losers really lose that much? How does this international boat racing work anyway? Who are these people and what were they doing in Rio? I went inside to find out.

Ao final, essa é a esséncia do produção de um espectáculo vazio. A única maneira reagir ao poder incriível e elegancia de classe mundial de um barco voando acima das ondas é balançar a cabeça e pensar – não seria legal pegar corona nele? Não faz sentido nenhum torcer por um barco ir mais rápido que um outro. Não existe mechanismo por participação ativo, o sistema de som tira sua capacidade conversar (o mesmo acontece nos estádios dos EUA). É impossível ter paixão profundo por um time. A chamada clarim de consumismo crea uma cobiça capitalistica que co-optam capacidade coletiva. A carreira tem um ganhador, por su posto, mas que perdem os perdedores? Como funciona esse sistema de carreiras de barcos internacoinal: Quem são essas pessoas e que estão fazendo no Rio? Eu fui adentro para ver.

Entering a marina to watch a powerboat competition one expects to see the most recent manifestations of the consumerist dreams of the upper-middle class. And there they were: a Japanese fusion restaurant, Polo store, H. Stern, boats, flat screen tvs, down tempo electronica, wide spaces, shopping mall ambience. The major surprise was to see Smart Cars on display and not SUVs. But the smart cars were just so cute that parents stuck their kids in the drivers seat and took pictures of them. Create the desire early, valorize those desires, and then capitalize later! Consumption is the only activity that makes sense and it’s so cute!

Entrando numa Marina para ver uma carreira de barcos de alta velocidade a gente antecipa encontrar com as manifestações mais recentes dos sonhos consumistas da classe meia-alta. E aí estavam: um restaurante japonês, Polo, H. Stern, barcos, telas de plasma, musica electrônica, espaços abertos, ambiente de um shpping. A maior sopresa foi ver Smart Cars e não SUVs. Mas os carros eram tão fofinhos que os pais não podiam resistir botar as crianças adentro e tirar fotos. Crea os desejos bem cedo, valorize-os , e capitalize depois! Consumir é a unica atividade que faz sentido e é tão fofoca!

There was some interesting information on hand that revealed the geography of powerboat racing. Between 1992-2009 these countries had representatives in the powerboating championships: Norway, Italy, France, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, San Marino, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Brasil, USA, Cuba (what the?). I’m not sure what this means but when Arabian royalty meet Euro-American capitalists there’s usually some kind of geo-political shitestorm going on.

Tinham informação que revelou a geografia de Class Um. Entre 1992-2009 os seguintes países tinham representantes nos campeonatos: Noruega, Itália, França, Espanha, Alemanha, Suíça, São Marino, Grã Bretanha, Austrália, Nova Zelândia, Emirados Árabes Unidos, Arábia Saudita, Qatar, Brasil, EUA, Cuba (o que?). não tenho certeza o que significa mas quando os reis e principes de Arábia se encontram com capitalistas Euro-Americanos, normalmente tem algum furacão de tipo de confusão geopolítico.

The catalog also showed an interesting geography of powerboat racing, the logics of which I will get to in a moment.

O catalogo do campeonato também mostrou uma geografia interesante de Classe Um, as lógicas de qual tratarei num momento.

The boats were on display in the dry dock so that spectators could watch the mechanics making last minute alterations. Each boat was on a huge trailer that was part of the team equipment. Looking at the places of origin of each of the teams, it’s clear that getting the seven boats to Rio was a huge logistical undertaking. The boats are nearly identical in weight, 4,800 kg, have two 900 hp engines, reach speeds of 130 knots, can hold 900 liters of fuel, and are between 12 and 13 meters in length. These are very sleek, very impressive machines. The gasoline consumption is also impressive – somewhere between 12-15 liters per minute, allowing a maximum excursion of an hour and fifteen minutes – but that will get you 250 km away!

Os barcos estavam nas docas secas para gente ver os mecânicos fazer seus ajustes de ultimo minuto. Cada barco estava acima de um caminhão que foi parte de equipamento do time. Olhando os lugares de origem dos sete times, ficou bastante claro que a logística daquele evento é bastante complicado. Os barcos são quase idênticos em peso, 4,800 kg, tem dois motores de 900 hp, atingiam velocidades de 130 nós, podem conter até 900 litros de gasolina, e são de 12 até 13 metros de proa à popa. Esse são maquinas lisas e super impresionantes. O consumo de gasolina também é impressionante – entre 12 -15 litros por minuto, dando um excursão máximo de uma hora e quinze minutos – mas esse te levará 250 km!

Why has the music at nearly every international event been reduced to the trite recycling of 1980s hits? I can handle the down-tempo electronica of a Japanese fusion restaurant, if only because it’s designed to fit into the background. But please, you people in charge of the empty spectacle, stop playing Billy Idol, Joan Jett, The Pretenders, The Cure, Depeche Mode and whatever sappy pop ballad U2 or Coldplay have recently regurgitated. You know that you are the target demographic of a place when you recognize the music and unwillingly start moving to it or start to sing “White Wedding”. It’s pure manipulation and in the context of this race, not even culturally pertinent. Why not play some bossa nova / samba / forró / rock nacional? Obviously, national music is not a mark of distinction in Brazil, Billy Idol is, and playing exclusively foreign music is a way of creating an air of cosmopolitanism, which feeds the spectacle.  

Porque a música de cada evento internacional tem sido reduzido ao reciclagem banal dos êxitos da década de 1980? Eu posso tolerar a eletrônica de um restaurante Japoneses fusão, porque está desenhado ficar nos fundos. Mas por favor, vocês encargados de espetáculo vazio, pare de tocar Billy Idol, Joan Jett, The Pretenders, The Cure, Depeche Mode, e qualquer emocionante balada que Coldplay ou U2 tinham regurgitado recentemente. Você sabe que está sendo o alvo demográfico de um lugar ou evento quando reconhece a música e começa se mover (contra sua própia vontade), ou começa cantar “White Wedding”. É manipulação pura e no contexto dessa carreira nem caiu no contexto cultural. Porque não toca algo de bossa nova, samba, forró, rock nacional? Obviamente, musica nacional não é uma marca de distinção no Brasil, Billy Idol é, e tocando exclusivamente musica estrangeira é uma maneira desenvolver um ambiente cosmopolita, o qual sustenta o espetáculo.

The press room was busy and I was clearly not in the normal circuit of people reporting results for popular consumption, received some strange looks, and went out to get some more information. Some of the teams had trailers that served as a logistical base camp, serving food, providing some shade and functioning as communications centers. Out of luck or instinct, I walked to the Victory Team encampment and entered into a conversation with Gianfranco Venturelli, the Italian manager of both the reigning world champions and runners-up, and President of the Association of Class One Powerboat Racing Teams. He was very gracious and accomodating. What follows is a rapid summary of our interview.

A sala de imprensa estava lotado e eu claramente não caia no circuito normal de gente reportando os resultados para ser consumidos na grande media, recebei uns olhares estranhos e sai em busca de mais informação. Alguns dos times tinham caminhões que serviam como campos logísticos, dando comida so time e funcionando como centros de comunicação. De sorte ou instinto, caminhei até o território do Victory Team e entrei numa conversa com Gianfranco Ventureli, o técnico Italiano do time campeão reinante e o time vice-campeão, também ele é o atual presidente da Associação de Times de Class One Powerboat Racing. Ele me estendeu muito cortesia e me acomodou com paciência. Ao seguir é um sumario rápido de nossa conversa (só inglês). 

"The boats were the least expensive elements of the Class One team costs, comprising less than 5% of the overall budget and that they were significantly less expensive than the 100 million Euros of a typical Forumula One car. The major difficulties for the teams are the logistics and for this reason the geography of Class One is relatively limited. Each of the seven teams brought at least 30 people to Rio. They all had at least two trailers in addition to their boats. They make their own boats in Dubai, and have 14 nationalities in the team. Team engineers are all “western” and they train Indian, Filipino, and Paquistani mechanics. There are 70 people on the team. The team is responsible for brining fame of Dubai around the world. Logistical concerns make it is difficult to have a world-wide competition. They had to charter a boat from Dubai to Rio and then from Rio to Italy. Looking at two other venues in Latin America to make the trip more viable economically...Class One is also in discussions with China and Australia to have races there. The organizers pay a fee for each team to bring boats, at more than 1000km of distance the local promoter must compensate x-euros por km. “The team is the key to any kind of result, if you have a good team, open listening to each other, pulling in one direction, you will be successful, this is for formula one, football, any kind of entity, success is to build the team, then you need the funding to build the best program that you can, money is not everything, the team is fundamental, there is no difference, the concept must be the same” The reality is that some teams are dependent upon winning to remain in the circuit If they are not successful it is a big problem. But perhaps less for our team [because it is sponsored by the government of Dubai], but it is still important to win. The economy is affecting everybody...our goal is to have ten boats in the competition, right now we have 8, but only 7 participated in Rio. The Brasilians did a great, great, great job of organizing. We have a ten year contract for this race in Rio de Janeiro."

The person responsible for bringing Class One racing to Rio is Eike Batista, the wealthiest man in Brasil (click here for his interview with Charlie Rose). Batista was the central feature of the glossy event magazine, and his Pink Fleet tour boats occupied the first page of the “sights to see” section of the March/April 2010 Rio Guide (conincidence?). That a man with tens of billions of dollars at his disposal and a taste for high adrenaline sports is able to bring Class One racing to the Marina da Gloria is not surprising or bad or good. But given Batista’s claim that “he wants to make Brasil better”, we should ask if Class One Racing is helping to accomplish that.

A pessoa que trouxe Class One ao Rio é Eike Batista, o homem mais rico do Brasil (faz click para ver seu entrevista com o jornalista Americana Charlie Rose). Batista ocupou o parte principal da revista do evento e seus barcos de Pink Fleet ocupavam a primeira pagina de secção “Passeios” na Guia do Rio Março/Abril 2010 (coincidência?).  Que um homem com dezenas de bilhões de dólares e um gosto por esportes de alta adrenalina pode trazer Class One à Marina da Gloria não é surpreendente nem bem nem mal. Mas, dado que ele disse que “quero deixar um Brasil melhor pelos meus filhos”, deveríamos perguntar se Classe One está funcionando alcançar essa meta.

Much as the Victory Team is charged with marketing the ‘brand” of Dubai, Class One racing is intended to market Rio to international capital. This is part of a larger process that cannot be separated from the installation of walls along the highways, the occupation of favelas with shock troops (UPPs), the rezoning of the city to make way for condo development (PEU Vargens), the massive investments in stadium and transportation infrastructure, the World Cup, the Olympics, etc. The production of spectacles like Class One draw media and public attention to events that have no cultural context, that transform public space into zones for the accumulation of capital and encourage the passive consumption of events that once completed disappear into the ether (reminding us of Berman’s famous phrase). Of course, it’s interesting and unique and spectacular and ‘cool’, but within the larger political, social, and economic contexts of Rio de Janeiro and Brasil, it is contributing to processes that are (in my opinion) going to further polarize the city long socio-economic lines, privatize public space, limit public engagement with the production of culture (leaving it in the hands of ‘professionals’), use public funds to stimulate private profit, and create a city that can only be consumed, not engaged, created, and lived.

Como o Victory Team está encargado com a missão de “brand marketing” pelos sheiks de Dubai, a intenção de Class One é colocar o Rio no vitrina de capital global. Esse é parte de um processo maior que não pode ser deslocado dos outros processos como da instalação de muros nas linhas de transporte, ocupação das favelas com UPPs, o rezoneamento da cidade para o especulação imobiliário, investimentos maciços em estádios e infra-estrutura de transporte, o Mundial, a Olimpíada, etc. A produção dos espetáculos como Class One atraem atenção mediato e público aos eventos que não tem um contexto cultural onde caber, que transformam espaço público em zonas pela acumulação de capital e estimulam o consumo passivo de eventos que uma vez completados desaparecem no éter (lembrando nos de frase famoso de Berman). Sem dúvida, o evento é interessante, único, espetacular e “cool”, mas adentro dos contextos políticos, econômicos, e sociais do Rio de Janeiro, na minha opinião, o evento contribui aos processos que vão aumentar a polarização da cidade em linhas socioeconômicas, privatizar espaço público, limitar a capacidade do povo de produzir sua própia cultura deixando esse produção nas mãos das chamadas profissionais, utilizar o bolso público para estimular lucro privado, e construir uma cidade que só pode ser consumido e não empenhado, criado, e vivido.

The above list of changes is what I think Batista was referring to in his interview with Charlie Rose as a process of “exorcising the left” (minutes 21 – 23). Lula, Batista suggests, was only successful because he understood relatively early in his term that it is better to “let entrepreneurs run the country” and that populist governments are the root of problems in Latin American governments (calling Argentina a “Rolls Royce driven by an Egyptian chauffeur”). There can be no doubt that social movements have suffered under Lula and that the neo-liberal project in Brasil is moving as quickly, consuming as many resources, and leaving as little in its wake as Class One Powerboat Racing.

Na sua entrevista com Charlie Rose, a lista de mudança mencionadas acima é que acho Eike queria dizer quando ele falava sobre o processo de ‘exorcizando a esquerda’ (minutos 21-23). Lula, surgiu Batista, só tenha tido tanto êxito porque ele entendeu bem cedo no seu mandato que é melhor “deixar os capitalistas dirigir o pais” e que os “governos populares.” Eike disse que Morales, Chaves e Kirchner estão sendo os raízes dos problemas da América Latina (chamando Argentina “um carro de Rolls Royce dirigido por um condutor Egipciano”). Não pode restar nenhuma dúvida que os movimentos sociais tinham sofrido muito sob Lula e que o projeto neo-liberal no Brasil está movendo-se tão rápido, consumindo tantos recursos, e deixando tão pouco na sua esteira como Class One Powerboat Racing.

29 March 2010

Casaca, Casaca, Casaca-saca-saca

Vasco (3) x Fluminese (0) Campeonato Carioca, Taça Rio, 28 Março 2010-03-29

Judging from the number of hits from the English speaking parts of the Americas, I am going to write this one for the northerners.

I make no secret of my footballing allegiances: Carolina RailHawks, New England Revolution, USA Nats, Celtic, Brighton and Hove Albion, St. Etienne, Ajax, Barcelona, Boca Juniors, Argentina, São Raimundo, Figurense, Vasco da Gama. I understand myself, and football, well enough to know that this list is conditioned by geography, emotional experiences, media, conscious and unconscious choices, caprice and accident. The only way to rank this list would be to put some electrodes on my head and show me a series of goals for and against and evaluate my emotional reaction. I don’t pretend to understand it myself, but everyone in Rio wants to know why eu torço pelo Vasco. Torço, porra, e já.

Until yesterday, I had never been to a game in the Campeonato Carioca (which I describe here). But Vasco were playing at a reasonable hour, the Rio State Football Federation (FERJ) managed to get their act together enough to use the Maracanã for a clássico, and so on Saturday I went to Fluminese F.C. to buy my ticket, knowing that on game day tickets are not available at the stadium. The cheapest ticket was R$40 (and sócios were not entitled to a discount).

I took the Metrô, which has recently changed to eliminate the need to get off at the Estácio station in order to change from line 1 to line 2. Except for the weekends. Of course there was no information about this, so when the train went to Praça Onze, I assumed that I had boarded the wrong train, went back to Central, and then didn’t get on the next train because the shiny new flat screen tv in the station said that it was headed to Saens Peña, not towards Maracanã. Incredibly, there was someone there to explain that I needed to look at the small sign on the map on the inside of the train to know that on weekends, the old transfer system is still in place. Anyway, I can’t decide if my confusion resulted from familiarity or from ignorance, but at least 4 other people asked me for help in getting onto the right train to go to the game. The cars were full of people headed back to the Zona Norte after a day at the beach plus Vasco and Flu fans headed to the Maracanã. 

Crossing the bridge from the Metrô to the Maracanã, one always enconuters cambistas, selling tickets. But who do they think they’re kidding, scalping tickets for a game that was 69,000 people short of a sellout? More curious, FERJ was actually selling tickets on the day of the game! I was dumbfounded. One never knows just what system is going to be in place for a given match.

Walking up the rampa monumental, which is one of the few elements of the Maracanã that will not be completely renovated for the World Cup because it is tombado (lit: entombed) as a cultural patrimony, there were a series of signs that were not present when I last visited. These signs say: Use Collective Transport; Don’t buy tickets from scalpers; In the end, you are a fan of the World Cup; Celebrate in Peace. Ironically, one of the biggest concerns that FIFA has with the Maracanã is the lack of parking. More irony stems from the fact that the scalpers are there because FERJ and the teams can’t figure out how to sell tickets effectively. These new signs also point to the use of the stadium as a disciplinary space, something which Gilmar Mascerenhas and I wrote about some time ago

I saw dozens of Vasco fans wearing the new 3rd strip which ‘only’ costs R$199,90 (US$120). The jersey is modeled on the Maltese Cross that fronted the armor of the Knights Templar as they protected Christian pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land. My first introduction to the Templars was in Umberto Eco’s book Foucault’s Pendulum, which I though was pretty cool when I read it 20 years ago. However, my fascination with a Christian military order protecting religious fanatics on their way to the newly sacked Jerusalem has taken a more critical turn. I can understand the economic logic that C.R. Vasco da Gama has in launching a new kit for R$199,90 (of which only about R$8 goes to the club), but the symbolic logic is a bit of a stretch for me. One of the cool things about Vasco is that they are never afraid to reach back into the middle ages in search of iconography that will rally the troops, as it were. The launching of the new jersey has political overtones within the club as there's some confusion between the current president Roberto Dinamite and the former, disgraced president Eurico Miranda. I was shocked to see a banner supporting the latter, and have taken the liberty of making a small alteration. One wonders what the Vasguaçu torcida is getting from Miranda. 
The Maracanã is both amazing and ordinary, one of the most well known sporting venues in the world that is part of the everyday reality of the city. Of course, it’s always like this. For people living in Jerusalem in the Middle Ages, the Holy Land wasn’t something to be continually amazed about and maybe it wasn’t even wholly Holy, but ask a Templar how he felt about getting there. I’m getting used to the Maracanã, but I always find something new to occupy my attention.

The obvious: there are yellow lines behind all of the seats in the arquibancada. Not so obvious: these were the old seats, replaced in 1999 in preparation for the World Club Championships (for you ManU fans, this was the FIFA competition that Sir Alex sacrificed a run at the FA Cup for). What’s surprising here is that 11 years and hundreds of millions of dollars of reforms later, the lines are still there.

The obvious: reclining in a green seat just isn’t possible. Not so obvious: this forces people to lean towards the field actually forcing them to pay more attention to what is happening on the field. What’s to come: all of these ass-catching seats will be replaced with chairs so that World Cup fans can consume their spectacle more passively. This is going to further diminish the capacity, but no one is saying by how much. FIFA demands, millions obey.

The obvious: the luxury boxes aren’t particularly luxurious and have terrible sight lines, especially those stuck behind the enormous television screens installed for the 2007 Pan American Games. Not so obvious: these luxury boxes increase the heat of the stadium by cutting off air flow, make the rampas monumentais unusable and more than doubles the amount of time it takes to empty the stadium. What’s to come: the luxury boxes are going below the upper level of stands, which will bullox the lower seats (installed in 2006), which will then have to be demolished and built anew. FIFA demands, millions pay.


The obvious: leaning slightly back in your seat on a clear night, the elliptical form of the roof makes both the sky and the stadium seem connected, huge, único. The roof catches sound and whips it through the stadium augmenting the noise, but also letting it escape into the city. Last night, the roof framed an azure sky as the moon passed overhead and Christo celebrated a goal on his perch. What’s to come: the roof is going to extend to cover the lower section of seats, cutting out the sky, reducing a majestic arc to a doughnut hole. FIFA demands, culture disappears, architecture suffers. 

One final curiosity: because of a long standing tradition of keeping the hand in the till, FERJ and the CBF are now required by law to report how much money is taken in and how many people were in the stadium. Last night's match had a total renda of R$383,500 and a paying audience of 13,096. This means that every person who paid did so at an average of R$29.29. However, there were officially 19,607 people in the stadium, dropping the average ticket to R$19.55. This also means that 33% of the people in the stadium didn't pay to get in! You have got to be kidding me. The logic here is baffling and perhaps some people from MBA soccer can buzz down here and help me with this. Charging more for tickets reduces attendance, which dimnishes overall revenue, so in order to increase attendance, more people get in for free? Did the Templars come up with this system for transporting people to the Holy Land?

Whatever about the Templars, the new kit did the trick for Vasco in the second half and they overwhelmed Fluminese who deserved better from their strong first half showing. With so much going on in the stadium it's kind of hard to concentrate on football but next time I promise some kind of match report.  

Caçando Elefantes Brancos na media

Copa deixará "elefantes brancos", diz pesquisador
Isabela Vieira, AGÊNCIA BRASIL

Rio de Janeiro - O Brasil enfrentará desafios estruturais para a realização da Copa do Mundo de 2014. De acordo com o geógrafo da Universidade Federal Fluminense (UFF), Christopher Gaffney, o país caminha para a construção de elefantes brancos e demonstra falta de planejamento e de transparência nos gastos públicos. As informações constam de estudo apresentado hoje (23), durante o Fórum Social Urbano (FSU).

Segundo a pesquisa, não há controle nos gastos com a construção ou a recuperação de estádios das 12 cidades que receberão as competições. Ainda de acordo com o pesquisador, como o governo não conseguiu apoio da iniciativa privada para construção das arenas, que devem ter capacidade para 50 mil pessoas, fará aportes por meio do Banco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Econômico e Social (BNDES), que destina R$ 4,8 bilhões para Copa do Mundo, sendo R$ 400 mil para cada município.

Gaffney disse também que a aplicação de dinheiro não conta com mecanismos de acompanhamento social e os orçamentos para reforma de três arenas foram extrapolados em menos de nove meses. Como exemplo, a pesquisa cita o Maracanã, no Rio, cujo orçamento inicial passou de R$ 500 milhões para R$ 600 milhões de 2009 para 2010, o Estádio do Morumbi, em São Paulo, que passou de R$ 136 milhões para R$ 240 milhões e do Estádio da Fonte Nova, em Salvador, de R$ 400 milhões para R$ 591 milhões.

O estudo questiona ainda o retorno dos investimentos governamentais na Copa, que também incluem infraestrutura urbana, transporte e benefícios fiscais. Gaffney estima que apenas para o retorno dos gastos com os estádios a ocupação das arenas deverá ser quadruplicada em relação a atual, embora os torcedores devam pagar mais pelos ingressos. Os preços passarão de R$ 20 e R$ 30 para R$ 45 e R$ 60.

"Vai ter que arranjar torcedor disposto a pagar o dobro. Isso porque têm cidades do Norte e Nordeste que não tem tradição futebolística para lotar os estádios, como foi dito aqui e isso vai ser difícil depois da Copa. Ou seja, esses estádios devem acabar se tornando uma coisa que a gente conhece bem: os elefantes brancos", afirmou o geógrafo, em referência a obras sem função social, com elevado custo de manutenção.

A pesquisa da UFF também chama atenção para o deslocamento dos torcedores no país durante a competição e alerta para o desafio da implementação de melhorias no transporte. “Não há uma estrutura ferroviária ligando o país e o próprio presidente da CBF reconheceu que o problema para a Copa são os aeroportos, afirmou. Segundo o geógrafo, os R$ 6 bilhões anunciados pelo governo federal para os aeroportos são insuficientes.

22 March 2010

David Harvey Reads This Blog

In case you were wondering where one of the most well known academic geographers gets his information, this is what David Harvey had to say at the opening of the Urban Social Forum in Rio de Janeiro today:

"...the only profit made off of any Olympic Games was Los Angeles, and in many instances cities and governments take a huge loss.  I think it is no accident that Greece is now close to defaulting, is seriously in debt and has serious financial problems in part because of all of the money they had to borrow and had to utilize to get the Olympic Games which produced empty places which nobody knows now what to do with."

You heard it here first. This is not the whole of the story however. The real thrust of Harvey's argument, which is also something that I have drawn attention to in other posts, is that capitalist expansion requires ever growing markets, ideally somewhere around 3% annual growth. When the opportunities for physical expansion contract, or the imbalance of wealth prevents the majority from entering the market, ficticious markets emerge, and when those markets collapse, crisis ensues: USA junk bonds 1987, Japan 1990, Mexico 1995, Thailand 1997, South Asian Tigers late 1990s, dot com bust 2001, USA real-estate crash 2007, etc. Now, Harvey suggested, the emerging fictions of carbon trading are finding their spatial and market equivalents in the production of hollow spectacles like the Olympics and World Cup. These events are ideal from the perspective of capital accumulation in that they are in continual motion, needing to be in a constant state of production, consumption, and decline, and offer a spectacle that once consumed is placed into the dustbin of history. They also create some handy bubbles, like rampant real-estate speculation, that allow some economies to sustain higher than 3% growth while others lag behind. Natrually, this growth is unequal both spatially and socially throughout the city, and we can read within the Olympic Map,  where these gross inequalities and fictious markets are going to take physical form.

21 March 2010

Campeonato Carioca

Today’s lesson in the geography of the obvious deals with the phenomenon of state soccer tournaments in Brazil. Each of the 26 Brazilian states holds multi-division tournaments between January and April, with the winner of the first division tournament gaining direct qualification for the Copa do Brasil (Brazil’s version of the FA Cup or US Open Cup). It is only after the end of the state tournaments that the four divisions of the Brazilian National Championship begin.

Why the state tournaments endure as a central feature of the Brazilian football calendar is something that I talk about in chapter two of Temples of the Earthbound Gods. The state tournaments are remnants of an era of the relative geographic isolation of Brazilian urban centers. Brazil is the same size as the continental United States, but the lack of efficient road, rail, and air transportation between the coastal cities and the interior has the effect of increasing geographic distance (as long as we consider time and space to be mutually constitutive). Because it was prohibitively expensive and time consuming to travel between Brazil’s major urban centers for most of the 20th century, state tournaments made much more sense than a national tournament. Even today, the lower divisions of Brazilian football are organized on a regional basis because it is simply not possible for smaller teams to afford weekly air travel.

The advent of the Brazilian national championship (Brasilerão) in 1971 was as much a political project as a sporting one: the military government wanted a way to integrate the country through the popularity of football, using the Selecão’s third World Cup victory in 1970 to obtain political ends. That the Brasilerão changed its rules 31 times between 1971 and 2003 didn’t endear it to the general population and the state tournaments continued to hold more cultural importance for fans well into the 1990s.

The traditional state powers from the main urban centers were able to use the Brasilerão and television contracts to get bigger, while the teams that only competed in the state tournaments became relatively smaller, sending their best players up the food chain. So the situation we have today in Rio de Janeiro is that no team outside of the big four (Vasco, Botafogo, Fluminese, Flamengo) has won a state title since 1966, and only Americano, Volta Redonda and Madureira have managed to finish second in the last 40 years. Yesterday, Olaria managed to beat Vasco for the first time since 1971. This is front page news in Rio.

The state tournaments have turned into a training ground for the bigger clubs throughout Brazil. Attendances are abysmal, games are lopsided, and the influence of the OGlobo network on game times ensures that this situation will continue as mid week games can only begin after the novelas have ended at 10pm. Worse, the Rio State Football Federation can’t even make the Maracanã ticketing system work. They no longer sell tickets on the day of the game, and the stadium can no longer host clasicos because no one will take responsibility for managing the turnstiles. It’s a joke. The recent developments have highlighted the staggering amount of institutional change that is going to be necessary before Brazil is ready to host the World Cup in 2014.

After talking with Juca Kufuri about the insane state of affairs in Brazilan football, he suggested that the CBF and its corrupt puppet master Ricardo Teixeira intentionally keep Brazilian football in a state of chaos in order to valorize the Brazilian National Team at the expense of the clubs. If you go to any football store in the world, you will find jerseys of club and national teams from England, Italy, Spain, Germany, and Argentina. You will rarely if ever see a Brazilian club team jersey, but will always be able to find the CBF jersey. This is obvious but not accidental. The Brazilian football calendar is grossly out of synch with the International calendar, allowing European teams to poach Brazilian players in the middle of the Campeonato Brasileiro, further weakening the club game in Brazil.

Tonight there is a classico between Flamengo and Botafogo at the Fechadão. There won’t be many people in the stands, because the stadium accesses are terrible and potentially dangerous when two rival torcidas are arriving via the same transportation lines at the same time. The lack of planning on the part of the state and national federations is aggravated by the lack of concern shown by the city government and the absurd influence of the major television networks. All of these factors, plus the increasingly rapid decline of the smaller teams relative to the big teams in Rio has made for one of the worst Cariocas in recent memory – a situation produced by history, geography, politics, and economics that can only be relieved by the raw potential of football to transform the mundane into sublime.

17 March 2010

The Panthers of Santarém

In the first two rounds of the Pará state championship, the Pará Football Federation (FPF) declared the stadium of São Raimundo E.C. unfit for competition without explainations. Two weeks later, without modifying the stadium at all, the FPF declared that the Colossus of the Tapajos fit to host a second round match of the Copa do Brasil between "A Pantera" and Botafogo F.C. of Rio de Janeiro. The 1 - 0 score line in favor of the team from Amazonia made the Santaremenses happy, for a few days. Following a protest lodged by Botafogo with the Brasilian Football Federation (CBF), it was revealed that the FPF delayed more than a week in registering three São Raimundo players. The decision was made to dock São Raimundo six points, annulling their home victory and ensuring that in the return leg in Rio de Janeiro, Botafogo would only need to tie to progress. The return leg was played on March 11 in the newst stadium in Brasil, the Stadium Rio (formerly known as the Estadio Olimpico João Havelange, Engenhão, or Fechadão). With three points to make up entering the game, The Panthers needed to win in regulation time and then win in penalties. 

The game ended 4-3 in favor of Botafogo, including a clear goal anulled for São Raimundo anulled by the referee with no foul or any sign of offside. People at the bars in Santarém were ripping their hair out in frustration. The global score was 4-4, with the 2009 Brazilian Serie D champions scoring 3 away goals, more than enough to see them advance under normal circumstances. In this game, which will register in the annals of football history as a mere curiostiy for only the most dedicated journalists to pour over, we can read the multiple forms of corruption and prejudice that pervade Brazilian football. 

The first form is the discrimination against teams from the interior of Pará originating in the capital Belém. The PFP is dominated by representatives of Paissandu and Remo, the traditional powerhouses (relatively) of the region. A few years ago, Paissandu was playing in the Brazilian Serie A, but has since fallen into the Serie D, which a small team from Santarém just won. Remo is unherard of inthe national scene and only disputes the Cameponato Paranense, and does so relatively poorly. So it's really no surprise that São Raimundo suffers at the hands of the big (relatively) boys from the capital. 

The second form is the prejudice stemming from the CBF, based in Rio and heavily influenced by the presidets of the 13 biggest clubs (known as the G-13), against teams from the north and north east of Brasil. The draws are favorable to the higher seeded teams, which are always from the south and south east. The cost of traveling is not subisdized, so São Raimundo, with a limited budget probably broke the bank in order to make a trip to Rio that they were very clearly going to lose, even if they won. 

The third form of corruption came in the form of the referee, who clearly annuled a legal goal. A São Raimundo vitory would have caused signficant problems for the CBF, the refereee and the general image of the Copa do Brasil in general. Not that there aren't enough insane things happening with Brasilian footy in the run up to the World Cup. 
At any rate, there was some major injustive served up to a national audience, but no one seemed to notice much.  I was so impressed with São Raimundo that I went out to buy a jersey, but, perhaps predictably, there are none to be had anywhere in the city. (for links, check the Portuguese version of this post). 

16 March 2010

A Pantera de Santarém

Nas primeiras duas rodadas do Campeonato Paraense, a Federação Paraense de Futebol (FPF) interditou o estádio de São Raimundo F.C. de Santarém sem explicações. Duas semanas depois, sem modificar o estádio de jeito nenhum, o FPF liberou o Colosso do Tapajós para sedear um jogo da Copa do Brasil entre ‘A Pantera’ e Botafogo F.C. de Rio de Janeiro. O placar de 1 a zero à favor do time Amazônico deu uma alegria aos Santarémenses, até a semana seguiente. Devido a um protesto de Botafogo com a Confederação Brasileiro de Futebol (CBF), foi revelado que a FPF demorou mais que uma semana em registrar três novos jogadores de São Raimundo e decidiu anular o resultado insólito de São Raimundo. Mas não só isso. O time pequeno de interior do Pará que não mostrou respeito suficiente ao time famoso do Rio de Janeiro sofreu uma perda de seis (6) pontos! A partida de volta foi marcado pelo dia 11 de Março no Stadium Rio o estádio mais novo do Brasil (também conhecido como Estádio Olímpico, Estádio João Havelange, Engenhão, e o Fechadão). Com três pontos à menos entrando o campo, A Pantera precisava de ganhar no tempo regulamentário e depois ganhar os penalites.

Botafogo saiu na frente, a Pantera empatou. Botafogo de novo, dois a um. Logo depois um gol de São Raimundo anulado sem explicações. O juiz ficou com cara de pão, deixou tudo o mundo saber que a justiça futebolística não é cega. Botafogo marcou seu terceiro, e tudo o mundo anticipou a porrada, mais São Raimundo marcou de novo, três a dois, antes de Botafogo meteu seu quarto gol. São Raimundo, time lutador, fechou o placar 4-3. A Pantera não morreu de nem mostrou inferioridade ou provincialidade, só umas falhas graves na defesa revelavam a distância entre o campeão de Campeonato Brasileiro Serie D 2009 e o Botafogo de Garrincha que só salvou sua posição na Serie A na última rodada do ano passado.

No marcador global, os times empatavam 4-4, com três gols fora de casa para a Pantera. Se o PFP tivesse submetido os papeis dos jogadores o São Raimundo ia-ter eliminado a Estrela Solitária, por conta de gols marcados fora de casa.

Vemos aqui dois, talvez, três tipos de discriminação. O primeiro é a discriminação contra times do interior de Pará vendo de Belém. O PFP é controlado por dirigentes dos dois grandes times do capital, Remo e Paissandu. O Remo não está disputando nenhum campeonato nacional, enquanto o São Raimundo subiu a Brasilleirão Serie C. O Paissandu, há poucos anos, estava disputando a Brasileirão Serie A, mas caiu até o D. Historicamente o Remo e o Paissandu tenham sido os grandes representantes de futebol Amazônica em Brasil, porque Manaus (que receberá um estádio novo pelo Mundial 2014) não tem tradição futebolística nenhuma. O sucesso dos Santarémenses tanto na ultimo edição de Campeonato Paraense (vice-campeão), sua conquista de Brasileirão D e progresso inesperado na Copa do Brasil, deveria ter provocado um sabor amargo em Belém.

O segundo preguiço vem da CBF, que sempre programa as partidas de volta no estádio do time maior, onde só precisam de empate para passar. Essa situação favorece os grandes times de sul.

O terceiro tipo de discriminação é no futebol mesmo, onde o pito de juiz dirige tudo. Vemos na Copa de 2002 que Itália e Espanha foram eliminados de uma maneira exageradamente preguiçosa quando jogavam contra Coréia do Sul. Os Coreanos sobreviveram com pênaltis fracos, cartões vermelhos inventados, e foram deixados atuar numa maneira violenta em campo. O juiz em campo pode mandar tudo passar, ou não, como foi o caso de segundo gol de São Raimundo. Anular-o porque? Porque não dá por um time pequeno, de Serie C, do interior do interior, ganhar uma disputa contra o poderoso e histórico Botafogo, com seu estádio novo, com os seus dirigentes almoçando com os da CBF em Barra de Tijuca? O porque se o resultado tivesse sido 4-4, o juiz não queira trabalhar uma meia hora mais pelas cobranças dos pênaltis?

De qualquer jeito, esse comentarista tem um novo time de coração, apesar de que é impossível encontrar uma camisa oficial em Santarém.

08 March 2010

The ironic and tragic walls of Rio de Janeiro

Major newspaper editors generally lack a sense of irony. This is especially true in Rio de Janeiro, where the largest daily paper, OGlobo, is a hegemonic behemoth that controls the tone and content of most public discussion. OGlobo is much more than a paper, it is a huge media network that makes no secret of its admiration for the increased state control of Rio’s public spaces under the current government and the concordant installation of a neo-liberal economic regime (at the Federal, State, and City levels). I’m not sure if they have a slogan as irony-free as “all the news that’s fit to print” of the New York Times, in the case that they don’t I suggest something more truthful like: “making the city safe for capital” or "construindo a cidade de consumo".

Perhaps it is my own over-developed sense of irony that attracts my attention to the lack of it in the media. However, when I read the following in the November 29, 2009 edition of the OGlobo Magazine, I ran for the computer:

 - Derrubar muros é um assunto muito atual. O de Berlim caiu há 20 anos, o de Ipanema faz poucos dias. Espaços mais felizes tornam as pessoas mais felizes e propensas a melhor convivênica cidadã. Boa parte da acalmada alegria do carioca, que se sobrepõe a todos os problemas e maazelas da cidade, vem da experiência de habitar um local privilegiado pelas praias, florestas urbanas e outras belezas que cercam essa nossa Cidade Maravilhosa. Rui Campos, "Calçadão do Jardim Botânico", p. 21

    - Tearing down walls is something that is actually happening. The Berlin Wall fell 20 years ago, the wall in Ipanema just a few days ago. Happier spaces make people happier and more likely to live better together. A good part of the calmer happiness of Rio’s residents, that puts itself above all of the problems of the city, comes from the experience of living in a privileged place of beaches, urban forests and other natural beauties that surround our Marvelous City.

The article, subtitled "Fewer Walls, More Pedestrians", describes with a slate of urban reforms for the Jardim Botânico neighborhood, one of the wealthiest in Rio. The reforms will apparently open up space for people to live a happier, more convivial life, with access to better transport, beaches, and urban forests. This is a good thing and marks some major progress in the planning and organization of public space in Rio. However, while some walls are coming down in Rio, many others are going up - in inverse proportion to the socio-economic and geographic profile of residents. 

Last week, as I was headed to the campus of UFRJ, traffic was delayed due to the construction of a wall that will separate the Red Line highway from the favelas that flank it. The title of the article in OGlobo describing the project was “Menos Barulho” (Less noise). But the content of the article made very clear that this was not about noise reduction: A Linha Vermelha, principal acesso ao Aeroporto Internacional Tom Jobim, registra um movimento de cerca de 140 mil veículos por dia. Já na Linha Amarela, o volume de tráfego chega a 380 mil. Ao longo das duas vias, existem 37 favelas, a maioria dominada pelo tráfico. Da lista, fazem parte, por exemplo, o Complexo da Maré e a Cidade Deus, que receberão barreiras acústicas.

‘The Red Line, the principal access to the Tom Jobim International Airport, records about 140 thousand vehicles a day. The Yellow Line receives about 380 thousand cars. Along both of these lines exist 37 favelas, the majority dominated by drug traffickers. The Maré Complex and City of God are part of this list and they will also receive acoustic barriers.

The article continued with this quote from a coronel of the highway patrol: Os casos de violência se concentram principalmente nos acessos. Os bandidos podem abordar motoristas e fugir de carro ou a pé. É claro que, para a polícia, é muito mais fácil montar um cerco e tentar prender bandidos que estejam em algum veículo numa via mais movimentada do que localizá-los se estiverem a pé, podendo se esconder em qualquer beco.

"The cases of violence are concentrated in the points of access. Bandits can attack motorists and flee by car or on foot. It's clear that for the police, it's much easier to put up a wall and try to catch bandits that are in a car on a flowing highway rather than if they were on foot, hiding in some alley [in a favela]."

The short article concludes by noting that "all of the walls will be painted by artists from the communities as part of the social projects that will be brought to the neighboring favelas." 

The walls along Rio's principal highways will accomplish a couple of things and will not accomplish some others:

1) the barriers will block the favelas from plain view along the major routes of access between the International Airport and the Olympic Zone in Barra de Tijuca as well as to the Center and Zona Sul.

2) the barriers will further separate communites that are already divided by the highway. There are no pedestrian over or under passes. 

3) once installed, the walls will generate temporary employment for a few atrists who can decorate the cage within which their community has been contained.

4) the symbolic economy of the wall will serve as a futher reminder that people living in favelas are better unseen and unheard, augmenting the stigma of living in a favela.

5) will probably reduce the chances of motorists being hit by stray bullets, but will also reduce the escape routes for motorists in the case of a arrrastão, which is a generalized mob assault on gridlocked cars. 

6) eliminate or reduce the access to the highways for community residents  whose primary employment is selling food and water to motorists stuck in traffic.

7) will make it less likely that bandidos who rob a car can escape into a favela, but because the walls are so low, stopping the car next to the wall will make for a very effective ladder. 

These walls will not:1) significantly reduce noise levels because they are too low (bottom at right). Similar walls in the United States (top photo at right), specifically designed to reduce noise from interstate traffic are typically 7-10 meters high.

 2) reduce the access of bandidos to the highways, as they can stroll up the access ramps

3) generate long-term employment or contribute to solving the problems of Rio de Janeiro. 

The Problem with Walls

These are not the only walls under construction in Rio. In Rocinha, the largest informal settlement in Latin America, walls are going up in order to stop the spread of the community into the Tijuca Forest. In the favela Dona Marta in Botafogo, the city erected a wall around the community to "protect the environment" from the unwanted expansion  of the community. (Photo montage at left: Rocinha contained by wall)

Rio de Janeiro is one of the few places in the world where the construction of walls is understaood as a viable solution to environmental, social, economic, and security problems. The other locations are: United States - Mexico Southwest Border Wall; Israel - Palestine Security Wall  (at right, errily similar to the shape of Rocinha); Belfast, Northern Ireland; India - Pakistan Line of Control: Morocco - Western Sahara; Cyprus; Saudi Arabia. 

Are there similarities and differences between these projects and what is happening in Rio de Janeiro? I think that though the circumstances are different, the motivations for building walls are based in an economy of fear that seeks to stigmatize and isolate unwanted social groups (Mexicans, Palestinians, West African Migrants, Catholics, favelados), or to separate people forcibly while providing a security mechanism that augments the power of the state to control and monitor movement across geographic frontiers. In this way, the absurd travail of getting a visa to travel to the USA is augmented by the byzantine banality of the TSA who erect a virtual, global wall that is all too easy to get around (to wit: the underwear and shoe bombers). 

The International Court of Justice condemned the Israeli wall as a violation of international and humanitarian law, and Mexico has considered taking the United States to the IOJ over the Border Wall (though the USA does not belong to the organization, thanks Obama). Belfast was, until recently, a torrid war zone. India and Pakistan have undefined and contested frontiers. Saudi Arabia built a wall following the deteriorating security conditions in Paul Bremer's Iraq. Morocco built the "Wall of Shame" to control the mineral resources of Western Sahara. Cyprus is in a perpetual civil war. Rio de Janeiro is building walls to hide poverty from plain view. Soon, the highways of Rio de Janeiro will resemble the final scene in Terry Gilliam's "Brazil" in which an endless series of billboards isolates the road. 

The idea that "good fences make good neighbors" does not apply in a geo-political context nor within the complex political and residential economy of a city as sharply divided along class and geographic lines as Rio de Janeiro.

To return to the article that brought me to this discussion it is sufficient to note that in some parts of Rio de Janeiro, walls are coming down in order to enhance the quality of life. In other parts of the city, walls are going up for very different reasons. The generalized rationale and effects of Rio's walls are the same as those in every other society that erects physical barriers in order to accent and re-enforce difference. The government's claim that these walls are meant to protect the environment or reduce noise pollution is an absurdity matched only by the lack of irony in the Brazilian media.

06 March 2010

A Greek Tragedy of Olympic Proportions

The organizers of the 2004 Athens Olympics should have included rioting as a demonstration sport. This way, the Greek population could have been rioting before the Games in anticipation of the huge debt that they were going to assume and thus would have been better prepared to battle the police to protest the generalized economic crisis the most expensive Games ever helped to foment. The riots of the past ten days are in response to the “austerity measures” passed by the Greek parliament. The Greeks are desperately trying to cut their deficit from 19% of GDP to the 3% required by the EU. Of course, the easiest way to do this is to slash social services, pensions, public salaries, and to raise taxes

The 2004 Olympics cost somewhere between 9 and 12 billion Euros (Games initially budgeted at 1 billion), with about 15% of this money going to a one-time security outlay that also had the effect of violating Greek territorial sovereignty. There is some evidence to suggest that the Greek government and Organizing Committee deliberately inflated the cost of the Games so that it would be relatively easy to reduce the national debt in 2005 and 2006. Oops. 

Unfotunately for the Greeks, the public borrowing stimulated by the Olympics was €43billion in 2004 alone! Constructing a tourism-based economy on the verge of a global crisis of consumption might have improved urban mobility, but if the tourists aren't coming to spend money no one is. Oops. The Geran foreign minister suggested that Greece sell some of its unoccupied islands (presumably to Germany) to releive some debt. The debt servicing on the unused stadiums continues to be a crushing burden on the city government and the vast majority of Olympic facilities go unused as the world watches the streets of Athens go up in flames. As Greek police moblize against student protesters (killing one so far), the protests are spreading across Europe and the government is sending its message through a shock doctrine vis a vis the passing of emergency legislation, it is good to remember the words of the former Economy and Finance Minister George Alogoskoufis who promised that the Olympics were "a major investment, which will yield in the coming period"

2010 Gold medal for riots in response to unfulfilled Olympic development: Greece
Let’s see if the Canadians can match their performance in Vancouver

p.s. Yesterday, during an interview with Brazil's Minister for Strategic Relations, Samuel Pinheiro Guimarães, I asked whether or not the debt crisis of post-Olympic Greece might cause the Brazilian Federal Government to reconsider the strategic risk involved in R$30 billion outlay for the 2016 Games or the R$ 4.5 billion earmarked for World Cup stadium construction. Guimarães focused his response on the development of transportation infrastructure, a question that I have repeatedly drawn attention to as being criminally limited to small sections of the city. Oddly enough, the minister danced around the question until arriving at the point where he retorically asked, "Why would President Obama have gone to Copenhagen to fight for the Games if they weren't a good thing? Why was Spain so interested in hosting the Games?" 

02 March 2010

Invictus - a film that loses

Yesterday as I was looking for a way to escape the Biblical rain of Rio de Janeiro, I ducked into the Odeon Theatre to see Invictus, Clint Eastwood’s latest machopiece. Invictus is based on the relationship between Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman), the South African Rugby team and its captain (Matt Damon), and the complicated political, social, and cultural realties of post-Apartheid South Africa. While the film is successful in bringing a few tears to the eye, in my opinion it does much more harm than good in demonstrating the power of sport to transform social relations.

In the opening scene of the film, Eastwood adequately demonstrates the highly racialized nature of sport in South Africa. Mandela’s caravan passes between two distinct groups. On one side of the street, large, well-fed whites play rugby on immaculate grass. On the other, skinny blacks play soccer with a homemade ball in the dirt. The blacks cheer Mandela’s passing, the white rugby coach says, “Remember this as the day our country went to the dogs.”

Mandela, as the newly elected president, is looking for ways to reconcile the country and hits upon the 1995 Rugby World Cup as a way to reach out to the Afrikaners. Mandela leverages the historical association of the Springboks with the Apartheid regime to construct a new image of South Africa as a rainbow nation. This, of course, angers and alienates black South Africans who are not as willing as Mandela to forgive and forget centuries of oppression by the Afrikaners.

Mandela will not be dissuaded from his project to leverage the racial identity of sport with his political project. He calls the Springbok captain (Pienaar) to the presidential palace, talks about leadership characteristics and performance, charms his shorts off, visits the team, learns their names, intervenes in a decision by the national sports federation to ban the Springbok colors and symbols, and has some horribly stilted conversations about how an international rugby tournament functions. South Africa performs beyond expectations, the team visits Robben Island before their semi-final match, Mandela delivers a hand-written copy of the poem “Invictus” to the captain (which he had read to himself in prison), dresses in the Springbok jersey, strides onto the field to shake hands with the teams in front of 60,000 South Africans who start chanting his name, and the ‘Boks beat the fancied Kiwis to win the world Cup and South Africa enters into a golden era of racial and class harmony not seen since…ever.

The heavy-handed implication of Invictus (based on the book, Playing the Enemy) is that the 1995 Rugby World Cup united a nation and set South Africa on a path towards reconciling the horrors of Apartheid. Here are the major problems that I had with the film:

Eastwood portrays the only black Springbok, Chester, as someone who “doesn’t like to think” about race. Why make Chester such a dull patsy? True, Chester is not obliged to be any kind of militant and perhaps he really didn’t want to think about being black in a white world, but surely he could have been put into the story more instead of focusing on Mandela’s relationship with Pienaar. Eastwood’s portrayal of Mandela as excessively concerned with Chester’s presence on the team may also be ingenuous as it would indicate that Mandela was leveraging Chester’s race for his own political project.

Enough with the geographic fantasy of the South African landscape. We get it, Cape Town is beautiful. Squatter settlements are romantic and tragic, best not seen except from the window of a tour bus. FIFA also gets it, which is why they refused the initial suggestions for the World Cup stadium location and moved it to a place that would look better for international television audiences. The geographic fetish of landscape brought
the Olympic Games to Vancouver, something that British Colombians will be paying down for the next generation.

Un-problematic class and race relations: the family of captain Pienaar is obliged to take their black maid because Pienaar has given her a ticket. The family hugs as South Africa wins, but the next day, the maid will be back at her post, traveling the same distance on the same crappy buses to get to a low paying life of sub-altern struggle. Nothing changes with the victory, she’s still a black maid in a white house. Sport does allow for the temporary inversion of social relationships, but the structural elements that allow those things to happen tend to reinforce inequality. This is especially true in regard to mega-events, and doubly true in South Africa (and Brazil) where the construction of sports facilities results in fertile grazing for white elephants.

The symbolic elements of sport are incredibly powerful and the evidence from South Africa is that nothing changed after the 1995 World Cup. In  1998, debates were still raging about the use and abuse of the Springbok symbols. Symbols acquire power and significance over time, and have emotional, cultural, and class significations that cannot be easily erased or changed. Sport is inherently political, making it more so doesn’t necessarily help.

The use of sport, and in particular, sport mega-events to transform societies is a much longer and more complicated process than Invictus would lead us to believe. The reality of post-Apartheid, and post 1995 World Cup South Africa is that race relations have improved, but that they have been substituted with unequal class and geographic relationships that have equally pernicious effects. We will undoubtedly learn that the 
2010 FIFA World Cup will transform South Africa. This is no doubt true, but opens nine stadium-sized cans of worms.

Movie rating: 1.5 stars. Not worth seeing.

01 March 2010

Gaffney Interview with MBA Soccer

This is a link to an intervew with MBA Soccer, one of the top USAmerican websites dedicated to the exploration and analysis of the economic realities of global soccer.


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