01 December 2010

The Stadium as Disciplinary Space

Facial identification of fans to be installed at the Engenhão stadium in Rio

One of the terrifying elements of going to events like Soccerex and Expoestádio is that I get to see all of the new technologies being developed in order to control fans. As I wrote with Gilmar Mascharenas some time ago, stadiums are places of discipline, where everyone is watched, measured, evaluated, judged, reformed, controlled. The players suffer the greatest scrutiny, followed by the referee, the coaching staff, the fans. Going to stadiums is a contradictory practice. We go to public space to lose ourselves in the crowd, but at the same time we are controlled, shunted, forced, and watched over like never before. The seating arrangements determine our behavior to some degree, the way that space is structured in and around the stadium directs our movement, the police lord over the crowd, the advertisers target us, and we watch each other – 80,000 cell phone cameras record everything.  

With the arrival of the World Cup in Brazil, and given the recent events in Rio, all people want to talk about is “security”. The concept of security as it is used in the media and by football officials is woefully narrow, focusing solely on the physical integrity of the fan. The security to come and go from the stadium without suffering robbery, attack, or threat is a fundamental one but surely security pertains to much more than what should be a fundamental condition of citizenship. In Brazil, the Law of the Fan is basically a penal code that creates extraordinary statutes for violent acts that occur in and around stadia. The “rights” of the fan to be “secure” do not extend past the limited conception of physical integrity. We could also consider security to pertain to culture and social well-being:

Are we secure in the knowledge that our rights as citizens will be protected? How will the information gathered about fans be used? Is there security of information? Do we have guarantees that public money being spent on stadia is meeting social needs, or is the huge expenditure going to decrease social welfare?  What are the opportunity costs of hosting mega-events and do they contribute to social security other than an increase in policing (which is not, in Rio de Janeiro, synonymous with security)?

With all this in mind I was perturbed to read a press release from Axis communications expressing in very press-release terms that soccerex would host the launching of a new camera that would identify football fans’ facial features as they go through the turnstiles:

 “the prototype, developed in Brazil, will be presented a the BWA stand, a business that offers complete solutions for the control of access to events…as the fans approaches the ticket reader (electronic, with specific seat), they will have their image registered in high definition and stored in a data bank. In the case that something happens in a determined seat, it will be possible to immediately identify the face and the data of the fan that occupied that place…after Soccerex, the camera will be tested in various stadiums that will host the World Cup.”

Because none of the stadiums that will host the World Cup will be ready until 2013, the test is going to take place at Rio's Engenhão (Fechadão, Stadium Rio, Estádio Olímpico J.H.). It might be tested this Sunday as the stadium will be full to see Fluminense grab their first Brasileirão title in 26 years.

This new camera, combined with microphones that can pick up a conversation from 500 meters between two people in a crowd and the multi-billion real investment in security apparatuses for the mega-event city are all part of a larger disciplinary scheme that is making Rio de Janeiro and its stadiums, and its stadium cultures, ever more docile, ever more ready to facilitate the free flow of capital. The new model of fandom is well known in other parts of the world. Buy your ticket, pay to park, walk quietly to the stadium, buy some things at the shop, sit down, buy some food, applaud, control yourself (or others will), consume, get out, come back. Repeat.

In summary: Brazil 2014 is making the world safe for capital accumulation, one high-tech security apparatus at a time. 

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