22 October 2010

The World Cup and the Elimination of Public Memory

The Maracanã is one of the most famous stadiums in all of human history. Constructed to host the 1950 World Cup final, its official capacity was 179,000. Brazilians happily referred to the colossal stadium as “O Maior do Mundo” – the biggest in the world. Over the years, hundreds of thousands gathered in the Maracanã to watch football. To create football. To live football. It was in the Maracanã that Santos F.C. and Pelé won the World Club Championship in 1961. Flamengo and Zico did the same in 1981. Pelé chose the Maracanã as the place to score his 1,000th goal. Since then, the goal itself has been known as the “Gol de Pelé”. The other goal is known as the “Gol de Garrincha” because that is where, in the 79th minute of the World Cup final in 1950, with the score tied 1-1, the Uruguayan winger killed the dreams of a nation.

This is not a tale of romanticized melodrama, it’s culture. It’s living, breathing, screaming, flag-waving, carnavelesque culture, and it’s being killed as you read this. . The reforms underway to “prepare” Brazilian stadiums to host the 2014 World Cup are literally eliminating the spaces where Brazilian football culture takes place. The Maracanã has undergone a series of hatchet jobs. In 1999, the capacity was reduced from 179,000 to 129,000. Before the FIFA World Club Championships in 2000, the Maracanã suffered the idiocy of “luxury boxes” that only served to cut off the air circulation and eliminate the use of the monumental ramps that define the stadium’s exterior.  In 2004-2005, a R$450 million reform reduced the capacity to 85,000, eliminated the standing only section, lowered the field by 3 meters, and installed big screen tvs that are about to be thrown out. Why? Because the “Maior do Mundo” is undergoing a projected R$720 million reform that will reduce the capacity to 75,000, install a roof so no one but the players get wet, and will actually reduce the length of the field by 7 meters and its width by 5 meters. Both the Gol de Pelé and the Gol de Garrincha will die. Those spaces, those places, the goal line where history and culture were made and remembered and recreated and forgotten and relived and renewed week after week, season after season, year after year, for six decades – gone. Poof. Já era. Public memory, public culture, one of the constituent elements of civil society – extinguished with a torrent of public money.

This is not only happening in Rio de Janeiro. The Minerão in Belo Horizonte is undergoing the same process. The Fonte Novo in Salvador, already reduced to rubble. The Vivaldão in Manaus is no more. The stadiums that are going up in their place are temples of consumption, sanitized environments that facilitate the circulation of capital, VIP salons where culture is consumed and not produced, air-conditioned fortresses, highly securitized off-worlds, crystalline shopping malls that require one parking spot for every six spectators. The 2014 World Cup stadiums in Fortaleza, Cuiabá, Manaus, Natal, and Brasilia will have no post-cup functionality. The World Cup stadiums will have such high maintenance costs that they can only be supported though public subsidy. We just saw this happen in South Africa, where residents of Cape Town are debating whether or not to implode the Green Point stadium. This is as revolting as it is sickening and immoral.

Why are public officials so willing to invest BILLIONS in public funds to erect stadia that :
1)      have no relationship to the urban environment?
2)      have no post-event uses?
3)      are undertaken with no input from those who use the stadiums?
4)      forcibly dislocate communities to make way for a “clean” television shot?
5)      will never have any economic viability, never make a return on the public investment?
6)      become privatized during the World Cup, where only FIFA security forces operate, where the only profits accrue to FIFA and their rapacious partners?
7)      destroy the very places where public culture and memory are created, preserved, lived, and transformed?

It doesn’t have to be this way. There is a different model. There is a way to make the democratically elected officials wake up from their soporific state of infatuation with corrupt FIFA overlords. The Minster of Sport and Culture, a member of the Communist Party of Brazil, is leading the way towards the destruction of sport and culture. O que isso?!?!! The project of ANT (torcedores.org) is to change the direction of these projects, to democratize the World Cup, to make it something Brazilian, not something from Switzerland. Within two weeks of ANT’s foundation the association has nearly 1,000 members throughout Brazil. One by one, the march of the formigas (ants) will grow, and by sheer force of numbers the white elephants will be consumed.

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