13 July 2010

Looking back, looking forward, going nowhere

The 2010 World Cup is history. Spain were deserving winners over a preternaturally violent Dutch side that should have been sent to Robben Island for a week of rock breaking. The juxtaposition of the villainous anti-football of Van Bommel and De Jong to the heroic jogo bonito of Xavi and Iniesta gave Spain well-deserved moral and sporting triumphs.

By most popular accounts, the 2010 tournament was a success: relatively safe streets, beautiful stadiums, decent organization, and incredible hospitality on the part of South Africans. FIFA agrees: the South Africans really were wonderful hosts, spending public money freely so that the Swiss-based monolith could rake in a record profit. It won’t take long for FIFA to count their US$3.3 billion in revenues (for the month); it will take South Africa many decades to pay off the party. The tourists have gone; the hotels, stadiums, airports, communications facilities, transportation lines, cultural attractions, and debt remain.

In order to make sense of what has happened in South Africa one has to get rid of the idea of the 2010 World Cup as a month long football tournament. A mega-event is not an “event” but a multi-year process that has residual effects that most people can’t, don’t want to, or refuse to acknowledge. In reading the responses to a recent article that draws attention to Brazil’s poor state of preparedness for the 2014 World Cup, one is struck by the degree of ignorance, short-sightedness, and willful disregard about the way the World Cup functions in the local context. While we distract ourselves about notions of “Fair Play” and contribution to cultures of deceit (i.e. the Suarez handball against Ghana), the dirtiest, cheating-est, most dishonest game is in the very production of the World Cup itself – where the laws that govern society are changed, violated, and ignored so that “we” can consume the inherent drama of sport in safety and comfort.

     1)   FIFA is a corrupt institution of organized criminals that bullies national and local governments into financing a private party. FIFA is very explicit about the private nature of the event. Everything within an x-kilometer radius of a World Cup stadium is FIFA’s private domain: a sanitized and securitized world of private accumulation where only certain signs, symbols, and behaviors are permitted. Worse, this FIFA-world is controlled by public and private security forces that act to ensure the smooth production of a global spectacle.

     2)     The Local Organizing Committee (LOC) has little or no public accountability even though they receive and direct all public funding for the event. This closed organization is neither elected nor subject to public regulatory agencies. In South Africa, one of the 23 SA2010 LOC  members was shot dead outside his home on his way to a whistle-blowing deposition. Once the event is over the LOC will dissolve, forever eliminating the possibility of legal action or public accountability.
      Brazil 2014 is a story of corruption foretold. The Brazilian LOC only has 6 members. For the first time in the history of the event the head of the national football federation (Ricardo Teixeira) will head the LOC. His daughter is the Secretary-general. Her grandfather is João Havelange, president of FIFA from 1974-1998. 

     3) Transportation infrastructures are constructed with only short term mobility and use in mind. FIFA does not employ urban planners. A LOC does not hold public meetings. In Johannesburg, for example, the construction of BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) lines linking the tourist zones with the stadium had two effects. One, it eliminated employment for thousands of informal and formal transportation providers, who later opened fire on the BRT. Secondly, the BRT will be almost completely unused after the World Cup, draining public coffers to maintain the linkages between the five star hotels and the Ellis Park Coca Cola Park Stadium (itself a totally unnecessary construction).

In Rio de Janeiro, the construction of BRTs linking the Zona Sul and the International Airport with the Olympic Zone in Barra de Tijuca is underway. There is also much talk of a bullet train linking Campinas-São Paulo-Rio de Janeiro (at a cost of R$45 billion). Presently, there is no passenger train service at all! Fala serio.

     4)   Most World Cup stadiums are isolated from the urban and cultural contexts, have no programmed post-cup use, and are very expensive to maintain. The anticipated maintenance costs for Soccer City are R1.5 million per month. That is R18 million a year (US$2.5 million) just to keep the thing standing. The average attendance at South African football games in 2009 was around 8,000. Who will pay to keep these stadiums standing?

In Brazil, the idea is that ticket prices are going to increase from an average of R$20 in 2010 to R$60 in 2014. This is seen as part of a necessary and inevitable process of “elitization” of Brazilian stadiums. There are no plans for multi-use stadiums. There are no plans to integrate stadiums into the urban fabric (partially as a result of FIFA’s requirement that there be one parking space for every 6 spectators which creates dead space around the stadiums). There are, in short, no plans that will make the stadiums anything but a perpetual drain on the public coffers.

     5)     While there are short –term employment benefits and increases in civil engineering projects (with corollary booms in commodities like concrete and steel), there is no evidence that mega-events bring economic benefits. While there is a boom in construction jobs, the haste to build the South African stadiums resulted in labor law violations, forceful strike breaking,  and the civil engineering companies responsible for the projects (at least in the South African case) brought in their skilled labor from abroad. Stadiums bring no medium to long-term economic gain anywhere in the world, much less in a country with 20% unemployment.

     6)     The restructuring of urban space and culture for tourism creates a dependency on a tourist economy. The current debt crisis in Greece can be traced, in part, to the massive borrowing for the Olympics plus the global financial meltdown that killed the tourist economy. This begs the question about why public funds are directed to hosting international tourists instead of providing basic necessities for the national population. 2010 World Cup spending equaled what is spent on public housing over a decade. Will more tourists arrive in South Africa? Maybe. Would they have arrived without the World Cup? Maybe. Will the South African housing and public health crises continue? Definitely.   

     7)     The way in which the world outside of the World Cup stadiums perceives and experiences the World Cup has become completely homogenized and controlled by the FIFA production crew. Everyone sees the same thing at more or less the same time in more or less the same way. From replays, to close-ups, to wide angle shots, FIFA controls the narrative. Granted, this narrative is delivered in HD with 36 cameras and super slo-mo, etc, etc, but what is presented to the world as reality is a simulacra of what is happening in the stadiums: an incomplete and fragmented narrative of events that only gives us limited insight into reality.

     8)      It is not only tele-spectators, but also live spectators that are crushed into a hegemonic, homogenous box. FIFA’s stadiums are basically the same. They all have to follow the same “manual”, meet the same “requirements”.  The worst example that comes to mind is the Maracanã. The architectural project submitted to FIFA in March was not approved because the architects did not take into account that the advertizing boards that surround the field for a FIFA World Cup (and occupy our field of vision for the 128 hours of football) are 30cm higher than those commonly used in Brazil. Therefore, the slope of the lower tier of stands had to be readjusted, which necessitated the complete revamping of the stadium project.

     9)     Is there any doubt that mega-events widen the gap between rich and poor? The South African government pail hundreds of millions in advertising to attract people, and then paid hundreds of millions more to control them once they arrived. The South African debt from the World Cup is roughly equivalent to FIFA profit.

    10)   If there is so much money to be spent on public works projects, why not do it anyway? (The event tends to unify coalitions that are usually at odds). By building on a massive scale for a month-long event, governments opt for a strategy of maximizing capital accumulation in the shortest possible time frame. That the public will continue to pay the bills for decades to come is not of much interest to the political power de jure as they will be remembered more for the successful hosting of the event than for the unfulfilled promises of economic and social development.

    11)   This table reflects the current state of the stadium projects for the 2014 World Cup. One year ago, the estimated cost for all of the stadiums was R$ 4,411,000,000. This has jumped by 31.6% - without actually building anything! Stadiums in Cuiaba and Manaus have begun to be demolished, but none of the remaining ten projects have begun.

Cidade-sede      Construção        R$xMilhões        Gestão       Atual (13.7.10)
Belo Horizonte
não contratada
edital publicada
Em duvida
na justiça
Licitação pendente
Porto Alegre
procurando dinheiro
Rio de Janeiro
não tem licitação
Contratada ; suspensa
São Paulo

São Paulo has no stadium project, as the Morumbi has been excluded. Rio de Janeiro has not yet published the Novo Maracanã project (to which we should add the R$430 million in reforms undertaken for the 2007 Pan American Games). Several other projects are held up in the courts. And…the national government just passed a law that will make it more, not less, difficult to track how public money is spent for the World Cup and Olympics.

    12) Mega-events as a model of social and economic development are inherently flawed. These events are promoted by local and national economic and political elites who erect autonomous agencies to direct billions from the public coffers. The restructuring of urban space for capital accumulation is exacerbated by the use of public and private security forces to ensure its unimpeded flow into the hands of multi-national corporations and international sport governing agencies. Once the “event” has passed, there is no public accountability, frequently nothing left in terms of a “legacy”, and massive sporting, transportation and tourist infrastructures that have little to no local context but need to be maintained with even more public money.

    13)  Is a mega-event completely horrible? No. Was the World Cup an unmitigated disaster? No. I nearly died from emotional overload on a number of occasions. Does a mega-event bring intangible benefits to the hosts? Yes. A mega-event is a global party during which a host city or nation is able to welcome the world. The emotions and drama of global sport are captivating and important and form part of our collective human consciousness (especially post-WWII). However, the form, function, processes, and lasting effects of the World Cup and Olympics are, on balance, terrible, nefarious, and destructive. The World Cup and Olympics need to be massively reconfigured, re-scaled, and re-thought, or they will continue to destroy environments, economies, communities, and lives around the globe. 

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