21 December 2011

End of Year Report

2011 comes to an end without the promised bang of divulged documents, lawsuits, popular uprisings (though there was an excellent dossier detailing abuses), gnashing of teeth and death by papercut. Maybe at this time next year we can all get our millennial dander up as high as the notes on the Legadômetro, but for this year everything in Brazil is sliding relatively quietly into the delicious do-nothing months between xmas and Carnaval. There is no shortage of material to comment on, however, and I’ll use this last post of the year to properly shut things down.

Transportation. It’s a mess and getting messier. The city is in a permanent state of near-paralysis and has one of the most fragile transportation systems in the world. In early December, a bus caught fire in the Linha Amarela tunnel which links Barra to the Zona Norte and shut down traffic in both directions for more than three hours. There continues to be no map of the city’s bus system and one never knows when a bus is going to arrive or if it will stop to let you on.  It frequently takes me an hour and a half to travel from Rio to Niterói, 3 km as the papagaio flies.

The smallest accident on the Rio-Niteroi bridge or on the perimetral clogs the city like a vegan after eating a cheesesteak. The projects underway in the Zona Portuaria have made the main transit avenues so unreliable that the ferrys have received a 50% increase in traffic. This is unfortunate because they are not equipped to handle the volume. The concessionaire, Barcas S.A., can’t manage to train pilots or maintain the boats with the inevitable result: two weeks ago a fully loaded ferry crashed full-steam ahead into the docks injuring more than a hundred people. As if to reward the company, the state government approved a massive increase in the fares. The state secretary of transportation really should be made to water-ski behind the ferry for a day and then to eat a kettle of raw Guanabara Bay mussels.

Air travel is quickly becoming the only viable means of transport in Brazil, even within the cities themselves. Rio’s proposed BRT lines will not attend current or future demands, nor reduce the need or desire for cars which are the principal problem. The innumerable construction projects are detonating what mobility there was.  If one has the luxury to be strategic about where, when, and how one moves about the city, then bicycle is by far the best option except that one inevitably takes fantastic risks in doing so. The city just put in, for the third time, one of those bike share programs and people seem to be using them, but without a larger bike-orientated transportation plan what’s the point? Ah yes, it looks good and Barcelona does it.

The Metrô linha 4 project is taking more form and looking more and more idiotic as time goes on. There are reports that the recently opened General Osorio station will have to be closed for 8 months for reforms. Most ridiculously, in order to convince the wealthy residents of Leblon to go along with the project, those who have their garage parking eliminated during construction will have personal, public servants to park their cars, carry their groceries, and generally help out with their lives. In addition to closing multiple public spaces indefinitely, the project is going to make traveling by metro even more difficult for those who live in the Zona Sul. Why? The Trans-Oeste BRT is going to pack the new metro line full in Jardim Oceânico in Barra in the direction of the center, so that by the time the trains get to Leblon-Ipanema-Copacabana-Botafogo, they will look like sleek sardine cans.

Sport. João Havelange was forced to resign from the IOC before he was kicked out. Despite his shame, he received standing ovations at soccerex and is still viewed as some kind of cantankerous, a-political saint. He’s an embarrassment to sport and society and should be prosecuted to the full extent of national and international law. His favorite phrase had long been, “I don’t do politics, I do sport.” This rang particularly hollow when he was running around the world courting votes or when he was glad-handing with dictators. Now his favorite phrase is, “just leave me in peace.” Sorry João, let’s hope those ISL documents come out before you exit through the trapdoor. I think Nem is looking for a roommate.

Tricky Ricky Teixeira has caught some of the same bug that his ex-father in law has, and has relieved himself from various CBF and World Cup duties until the end of January. While one has to admit that he doesn’t and has never looked particularly well, the “health reasons” excuse just before incriminating documents were meant to be released is pathetic at best. The vice-president of the Piauí Football Federation has called for his imprisonment. Let’s hope that gets some legs.

The Brazilian Olympic committee decided to make the fort at the end of Urca the base for the Brazilian Olympic Team for 2016. I wonder if anyone asked the residents’ association of Urca what they thought about having their principal access to their neighborhood clogged with news trucks, security forces, athletes’ buses, VIP limos, etc. for the months leading up to and during the Olympics. Don’t want the Brazilians to arrive at their events? It would be almost as easy as shutting down the Linha Vermelha.

The gap between the best football in the world and what we see in Brazil was exposed in stark detail in Barcelona’s 4-0 thrashing of Santos in the final of the World Club Championship. Brazilian football is decades behind in management practices and mired in the export-minded political economy of a banana republic. Barcelona’s total football is not just about football, but about the creation of a life-world for its players. While the players are perhaps savagely competitive, there is an educational and social structure at Barcelona that does not throw their injured or less-talented prospects back into the murky waters of the labor-market like so many ill-caught fish. Of course F.C. Barcelona has its problems, but one cannot argue with the beauty and dynamism of what they produce on the field. The most disappointing part of the game was seeing the line of FIFA safados handing out the trophies. A gaggle of corpulent, self-important stuffed shirts, smirking all the way to the bank. You too, Platini, shame on you.


Model of Brasilia's LEED certified stadium
The Cup. This is the official line of thinking regarding the stadium projects. 1) Stadiums are not viable economic projects because ticket prices in Brazil are too low, therefore, 2) The “only way” to sustain stadiums is through international shows and increased points of sale, turning fans into clients and stadia into shopping malls 3) though being over built for the World Cup, don’t worry, the stadiums are now being planned for use after the events to guarantee their economic viability 4) the stadium projects should be constructed to attain the highest possible LEED certification to highlight Brazil’s commitment to “sustainable development” (even though Brazil doesn’t have a company that manufactures the technology required to attain the certification and all of the contracts will have to go to foreign companies) 5) the most important thing that the stadiums will do will be to project the city to international audiences therefore the cost isn’t entirely relevant. Booooooo, hisssss. How are those stadia in South Africa doing? Useless. White. Elephants. Unless, of course, you believe the NYTimes which had the gall to show the Green Point stadium in Cape Town as a symbol of that city’s creative economy. Bullocks, bullocks, bullocks.

Brasilia's Mane Garrincha taking form
The naming of Ronaldo Fenômeno as the mouth piece of the World Cup is meant to attract investments and divert attention. As was to be expected, Ronaldo knows how to use his foot, putting it squarely in his mouth by saying “You host a World Cup with stadiums, not hospitals”. Nice one. Actually, Ronaldo, hospitals are a major component of a World Cup, but let’s leave that for next year.

The Law of the Cup that has been such a bone of contention between FIFA, the federal government, and civil society was not voted on, again. The details of the law are of interest to those of us working on the structure of the event, and once it is passed we’ll give it a good look and analyze the conflicts, delays, and players that brought it into being. For now, FIFA is going to have a big, empty stocking that may not be filled with as much money as it would like in 2014. Does anyone actually think that FIFA needs more money or that it is an effective steward of football? Que se vayan todos.

Brasilia's aborted VLT project
After a visit to Brasilia, I was both relieved and saddened to learn that Rio de Janeiro is not the only city that is going through some major problems with transportation, stadium construction, corruption, and incompetence. The World Cup organizing committee in Brasilia is going to put a few leisure-oriented bike paths along the axis monumental but will put the bike racks about a kilometer away from the stadium, in the middle of a grass-covered open space. The proposed light rail system linking the airport to the stadium (more or less) went ahead without approval, destroying an existing traffic interchange. There are no plans to either fix the interchange or to complete the rail project, which was very, very poorly designed in the first place. As I wrote earlier this year, the World Cup was born in obscurity, is being run out of a black box, and is going to end up in the courts. It will be a hell of a party.

UPPs, Milicias, Traficantes, oh my. Rocinha and Vidigal were occupied / pacified without so much as a “by your leave”. As ever, real-estate has boomed and people are trying to make sense of the new dynamics. The circumstances under which these two critical neighborhoods were occupied were strange in the extreme. It appeared as if the either the entire architecture of the drug trade in the Zona Sul was dominated by one person (Nem) and that he had a critical, unimaginable security and information meltdown or that the new boss is just like the old boss but with weapons and training paid for with public money. The security situation in Rio continues to boggle my mind. It’s big business, unevenly distributed, unequally applied, and a determining factor in just about everything that happens in the city. The milicias in the Zona Oeste continue to have a fantastic and phantasmagoric influence on the city and state governments, whose levels of depravity, arrogance, and misanthropy are reaching ever greater heights. It’s not safe to sit around in public space where the UPPs are active. There are always fingers on high-caliber triggers. This link is to a story of a man shot while in playing samba in Mangueira, just across from the Maracanã.

Meanwhile and perhaps encouraged by the marketing of the illusion of security, record numbers of foreign tourists are coming to Brazil. How many? 7 million in 2011. That is around 600,000 a month, exactly the number that is expected for the 2014 World Cup. How is it again that the World Cup is going to increase Brazil’s tourist numbers and establish tourism as the ever expanding base for urban economies? It’s not and it won’t. As I have repeated time and time again, international tourism in Brazil is not a major source of revenue or employment. 7 million tourists is only slightly more than the Dominican Republic receives. This is an insanely expensive country, there is little or no tourist information (for instance, the last time I came through Galeão in Rio the only English language tourist information was produced by “Rio for Partiers”), and mono-lingual gringos are going to have a tough go of it. Not to say that Brazil isn’t wonderful or that tourists shouldn’t come, just that it is neither easy nor cheap nor close to the major centers from which international tourists depart.

Brazil, the myth of emergence. Brazil’s actual economic growth has not been that dynamic in the last few years. While it is true that the economy has expanded the state controls on the economy are so great and the protectionist measures so strong that the opening of Brazilian markets that would really cause the economy to take off simply hasn’t happened. There is little to no competition in the Brazilian marketplace for essential goods and services, which makes quality low, prices high, and service terrible. The re-distribution of income that supposedly took place under Lula via the Bolsa Familia program appears to have been a token gesture that has had the very positive effect of removing millions from absolute poverty and pushing them into the lower classes or into plain ol’ poverty. Indeed, there has been a general improvement on the national scale towards a more equitable distribution of income, but Brazil remains one of the most unequal countries in the world. This was highleghted by the release of the IBGE report detailing the increase in the percentage of Brazilians living in favelas and informal settlements. Rio de Janeiro, sadly, has been the one state in Brazil that has seen income disparity increase over the last ten years and is the city with the highest percentage and overall numbers of people in favleas. One well-known effect of these dang mega-events (that don’t exist, remember) is that they increase inequality while brining in a large, sophisticated, and permanent military apparatus that acts to preserve and re-enforce the accumulation of capital in its various guises. The more we can pull back the curtain, open the black boxes, say nay to the Trojan horse,  and demand information, the more likely it will be that these events can be used as opportunities to propose and impose alternatives to the current paradigm.

Felizes festas e nos veremos em 2012!

12 December 2011

end of year experiment

Letters from Rio

I went, for the first time, to Vidigal. Vidigal is a neighborhood perched on a lovely slab of granite rising out of the South Atlantic. It was recently occupied by the Rio de Janeiro State Military Police, effectively and immediately removing the presence of the drug trafficking factions. The intersection and meshing of the human and the physical defies neat or facile description, so excuse my failure to convey the totality of the reality, as it were.

Vidigal is large and in an extremely beautiful, strategic, and increasingly lucrative spot. Sitting between Ipanema-Leblon, São Conrado (a very wealthy beach neighborhood) and Barra de Tijuca (where the Olympics will be), Vidigal had been under the control of Nem. Nem lived in Rocinha, and was the most wanted drug lord in Rio, if not all of Brazil. After openly directing the drug trade in both Rocinha and Vidigal, Nem was arrested a few weeks ago , found hiding in the trunk of a car. There was something very strange about the way Nem went down and the Military Police occupied the hills. Even stranger to think that one person had controlled so much territory and kept the state from providing basic services. Nem, the film, coming soon.  (I think I could have shown him a better way to get out of town before the police arrived, but that’s another story).

A few hours prior to heading to Vidigal, I had done some facebook, web-interface, electronic guest list trickery to print out some tickets from a website hosted in San Francisco. I had heard about the “thing” ( I wasn’t sure what it was), from the ragazzi italiani. The tickets told me I was going to a place called Alto Vidigal. From the Praça Vidigal to Alto Vidigal it was suggested to take a combi (VW van taxi) or moto-taxi.

While waiting in line to get the motor taxi, heavily, heavily armed PMERJ forces patrolled the principal street while the party rolled at the Praça de Vidigal, opening onto the Avenida Niemeyer. Death by machine gun was walking around. This is not a light-touch security solution, but rather a full military occupation of urban space: foot patrols, stationed cars, tactical deployments, air support, central command and control. Big dudes, big guns. I didn’t take pictures. 

I hadn’t been to Vidigal before the installation of this UPP, the 14th or 15th in Rio. The “Police Pacification Units” have been occupying favelas in Rio for about two years. Their actions quickly change the security dynamics, which had been previously controlled by drug gangs, City of God-style. They give notice of the occupation some weeks before they roll in, in order to give the bad guys time to skedaddle. Why? If they came in without warning, the gun battles would be pretty extreme and a lot of innocents would get hurt. There haven’t been as many bloodbaths as there could have been.

On the other hand, where are the bad guys going to? There are reports citing an increase in violence in other parts of the Rio Metro Area and in Rio de Janeiro state. Are the bandidos just heading to other parts of the city to continue their trades? Is there going to be a dis-proportional increase in number of  bandidos per 100,000 people in non-occupied favelas? Will the relative value of a bandido be less as there is a glut in the labor market? How does the occupation shift the dynamics of the drug trade? When the Complexo do Alemão was occupied last year, the police found around 40 tons of marijuana. To what degree these disruptions have influenced the price of drugs in the city, I cannot say, but it has certainly changed the dynamics of sale and distribution in Rio.

A big party wound up in the Praça: very loud, live music sprayed through speakers wholly unequipped to handle the tone or volume. Saturday night festa, military occupation rolling, a lot of people standing around watching the scene, everyone probably wondering what changes had been put into motion.  On a more banal level,  the moto-taxi ride was fantastic, the motoristas are top notch mountain riders, highly skilled. My first impressions flying by on a motorcycle were that Vidigal is relatively wealthy, with some big apartment buildings, established grocery store and small commerce…a big, vibrant, complex place. I won’t pretend to know much more about it than that, otherwise I’d run the risk of having this piece published in the NYTimes.  The roads were vertical, and well paved. It’s no joke getting trucks and cars up and down. It’s an ever-shifting obstacle course and a nice little adventure on a moto. Arriving at our destination, there was a hand painted sign pointing the way to Alto Vidigal. R$2 for the moto-taxi.

There is a little plaza in front of the Casa Alto Vidigal. Several big, camouflaged military police wielded around. Two Brazilians running the entrance found my name on a list that had been sent to them via my registration in San Francisco and with my printed out ticket, I got R$10 off the R$30 entrance (U$ 12). I handed my money to a young woman behind ceiling-high bars. As I was fitted with an armband, I was asked if I had any drugs with me, you know, marijuana, intimating the effervescent police presence outside. Three weeks ago, no one would have asked that question.

One of the undeniable outcomes of the UPPs is the explosion in real-estate values. Not only does the value of real-estate in the favela increase, but also in the areas around it, which have had a knock-on benefit of improved security. In some cases, there has been a 400% increase in real-estate values. When Rocinha was occupied, some house values increased 50% overnight. Alto Vidigal must have also seen an increase in its value as they pulled a large Saturday night crowd.

View of Vidigal with Leblon-Ipanema in the background
The crowd was predominantly young gringo, which is to say non-Brazilian. There was some Austrain bizarro that looked a mix between The Little Prince and Rod Stewart, here several months early for Carnaval. There was an Annie Lennox, a tight-jeaned German, a self-important and arrogant French film crew, packs of hipsters with their wry grimaces, a foreign professor or two, some gonzo journos, a live sax accompanying the dj, a packed dance floor, a chilly breeze and an incredible view. A third wave of partiers arrived at 3am. This is Gringolândia, a foreign outpost on foreign soil. We were there to consume, our privilege and safety now under the watchful eyes of the military police.

01 December 2011

Mega-events don’t exist

Mega-events don’t exist.

There is no point in using the term “mega-event” except as a convenient placeholder for the impossibly complex, intersecting, mutually dependent and independently functioning elements that come together to produce whatever the “mega-event” is.

Deconstructing the World Cup and Olympics and organizing them into intelligible, digestible bits that can be understood is, perhaps, within the realm of possibility. Understanding the hundreds of millions of moving parts and how they come together to give us something like the 2014 FIFA World Cup is impossible. Pulling on a loose thread may begin to unravel the general structure, but without understanding the whole at the end of the day you’re left with a pile of micro-fibers.

So, let’s stop talking about mega-events and start talking about “accelerated process of socio-spatial transformation punctuated by signature global events”. Not very catchy, I know. How about “vicious circles of creative destruction marked by overlapping sovereignties, deliberately vague responsibility frontiers, and the imposition of homogeneous and globalized consumer cultures”. Perhaps something more pithy? Hmmm…”the normalization of a condition of political exception that generates the compulsory acceptance of a consumptive ritual decoupled from its ontological moorings.” Hard to put an acronym on that.  Oh well. Perhaps my degree in philosophy will come in handy while discussing the non-existent.

It must be because the mega-event doesn’t exist that no one can take ultimate responsibility for the processes it unleashes and the impacts it generates. FIFA can’t be blamed for the transportation infrastructures that cities choose to install. The cities can’t be blamed for wanting to host the World Cup. The state can’t take responsibility for the way that FIFA goes about its business, though they could refuse to get on their knees to bring the event. Sponsors can’t be blamed for the human rights violations that pave the way for their profits.  The security demands of the event attend to the real and perceived risks that the event itself generates. No event, no risk? Or is the risk in not having the event?

I am not trying to hedge my bets here, but trying to make sense of the arguments, displays, discussions and presentations from Soccerex over the last three days. There are billions of dollars of public funds in play. This money, although also fictitious and conceptual, has very real effects and could be put to uses other than hosting a month long soccer tournament. Because no one has ultimate responsibility over the way in which this money is spent and the effect it has, before smashing the Cup on the ground to see what it’s made of we’ve got to continually step back to look at the Cup as an object: an object of desire, a goal in and of itself, a process, a social construction, a symbol, a moment, and a means to various, valorous and nefarious ends. In Brazil, this Cup runneth over with problems, contradictions, intransient bureaucracy, narrow political agendas, nepotism, corruption, graft, conflicting interests, ill-conceived projects, forced removals, rule by decree, a lack of effective urban planning and the funneling of public money to private hands in one of the most unequal societies in the world -  quite a lot for something that doesn’t exist. 

22 November 2011

Checking in. Tudo bem? Key-toe'chimo, bri'gado.

Checking back into the craziness of Rio and not too much has changed. The new Minister of Sport, Aldo Rebelo, has been given extraordinary powers and handed the circus over to his cronies and family. Not only did he appoint his personal “people of confidence” , Dilma transferred the APO to the MdoE. That’s a Brazilian acronym to describe the Ministry of Sport, though it could also be MdoE/MoS, just to clarify things and ensure employment for stamp makers. The APO is the acronym for the Autoridade Público Olímpico. This is the body that is ostensibly in control of the R$30 billion budget and the agency that will direct all Olympic-related building projects. All of a sudden, it’s under the new minister. Here we go again, de novo.

FIFA goes along its way, keeping the idiots in charge as long as possible. Can someone please offer Sepp Blatter another job? How about washing dishes in a Brazilian prison? If you haven’t seen Andrew Jenning’s recent stuff, check out www.transparencyinsport.org.  This part might anger Eike Batista, Brazil’s richest, though not most-flatulent man: Ol ‘ Sepp gave the 2014 ticketing contract to his nephew on a no-bid basis. This might rankle the Eikster who said not long ago that if we wanted to get a ticket to the World Cup we would “have to talk to him”.  Let confusion reign.

Where does one begin to explain the differences between Rio de Janeiro and Vancouver? Winter and Summer? Canada and Brazil? South East Atlantic and North West Pacific? Sun People and Cloud People?  How about the airports? Jumpin’ Jaysus. The 40 step escalators at Galeão don’t work. Walking into Vancouver, you passed through a Disney-landesque version of a Rain Forest, which was, despite and because of the Disney factor, impressive and well executed. I thought it was cool, and gave a sense of the natural world one is entering beyond the airport. At Galeão, one also gets an sense of the external, without having to leave the airport.

Vancouver

Rio de Janeiro
It is hard to say which city has a more or less spectacular setting. It’s staggeringly beautiful  In either case, though one could argue that Vancouver has much better access to its environmental amenities. But please, Brazil’s beaches. The one beach I visited was clothing optional, very rocky, and with very cold water. Vancouver, where only the confident wade.

As pequenas barcas de Vancouver. Por que não na Lagoa ou Praca XV - SDU - Urca?
For public transport, is there a better central city area than Vancouver for bus and bike? Water Taxis? They’re as expensive and fancy as a gold tooth, but a great, efficient ride. Very nice, and even in wet, cold weather a good means to get about central Vancouver. I didn’t get to test the inter and intra city ferry system, nor the ferries out to Vancouver Island, but I have a sneaking suspicion that their bike policy compares favorably with that of Barcas S.A.

So, Rio has some serious work to do if it is going to make 50 years progress in 5, again. During my time in Vancouver, Rocinha was occupied by BOPE and MPERJ, OGlobo and Sky TV. Though of course too complex to completely wrap one’s head around, the occupation of Rocinha caused a jump in real-estate prices there and in neighboring São Conrado, an already wealthy enclave. It was widely reported that the marketing bobbleheads that pass for democratically elected leaders were well pleased with the international media attention. There’s no such thing as bad press, right? Not when OGlobo is on your team.

Things are too busy to do more than one or two more posts before the end of the year. One must feed the academic beast some tasty bits from time to time. If you’re just testing the cool waters of geostadia.com for the first time, starting from September 2009 you can find articles related to the Rio Olympics. I enjoy highlighting life’s absurdities and contradictions.  Rio de Janeiro is a seemingly inexhaustible font of inspiration. I enjoy a good circus but don’t want to be a clown. For those who are interested in a sample of my soccer coverage from North Carolina,  click here.  

One question that I would like to pose to those who see (or saw) the Brazilian mega-events through the rose-tinted lenses of dispassionate reason: Why did anyone expect that the negative elements of the Olympics were going to be mitigated in a country and city known for huge socio-economic inequalities, weak democratic institutions, oligarchic business practices, and newly deep pockets?

04 November 2011

Finados

Orlando Silva is out of the Ministry of Sport and is under federal investigataion for shuffling cards under the table. Nothing surprising, but the top communist post in Dilma’s government appears to have been less than equitable in his redistribution of state funds. Silva has been replaced by Aldo Rebelo who was involved in some small scandals in the Lula government. Far from squeaky clean, Rebelo’s brother was named in the scandal that brought down Silva. It is unclear if Rebelo has ever kicked or thrown a ball in anger or what his qualifications are to head the government’s primary ministry that will deal with the World Cup and Olympics. More of the same, de novo.

After saying he was going to radically reduce the taxi fleet by some thousands of taxis (and had this put into the Master Plan) the Glorious Crown Prince of Rio has decided to increase it by six thousand. How does he do this? Executive decree. What is an executive decree? A handy tool taken from the box of authoritarianism. What is authoritarianism? The dominant regime in Rio.

Has there ever been a city preparing for mega-events, trying to sell itself to the world as a place of business and leisure that has an much violence and open gunfire in the streets as Rio? Yesterday, in Santa Teresa, there was a gun battle between traficantes and the Military Police after the latter arrested some of the former. The attack on Santa’s UPP is the latest in a series of battles between insurgents and the coalition forces and was probably related to the monthly payment scheme that the two sides had worked out (where the UPP bosses received R$50,000 a month from the traficantes). Last week in Maré, one of Rio’s biggest drug bosses was gunned down in an intense firefight. BOPE has been occupying a part of Maré for a couple of weeks as they prepare to install their headquarters in the region.

The state government appears to be massaging their homicide statistics to show that their public policies are working, but there has been a commensurate increase in “deaths by other causes” as well as disappearances. Between 2007 and April of 2011, 22.533 people disappeared in Rio de Janeiro.

One of the people who should not have disappeared from Rio is State Deputy Marcelo Freixo. Freixo has been under death threat by milicias for years, but recently those threats have escalated and he gone to London at the invitation of Amnesty International to give a series of lectures. Ever sympathetic to the allies of the Crown Prince, who had a sit-down meeting with the milicias about van transport last week, OGlobo mocked Freixo in today’s paper saying that Freixo really isn’t under threat but that his departure was “already scheduled”. From Freixo’s twitter page:
Não recebi qualquer contato de autoridade do gov do Rio para falar sobre as ameaças que recebi. Tratavam como se o problema fosse meu.
I have not received any contact from the Rio government to talk about the threats I have received. They are treating the problem as if it were mine alone.

Naked and repeated death threats to state representatives, open gun battles in some streets, a mayor that governs through executive order, insane traffic problems, rampant real-estate speculation… all made better by the announcement that FIFA is going to offer tickets for the first round of World Cup games between US$20 and US$30. The above link is an interview with FIFA VP Valcke, who is honest in his answers but after reading the interview I’m pretty sure that this is going to be a disaster of a World Cup in terms of mobility. His response to the reporter’s question about a Brazilian fan having to travel more than 10,000km to see the team play was “At least he will be able to say that he traveled.” As I described in an earlier post, the sheer number of air miles is going to overload the Brazilian system completely. My recommendation: stay in the north-east (Recife, Natal, Fortaleza) and paddleboard between the cities.

The Campeonato Brasileiro is headed to a dramatic conclusion. This is the most disputed title in some time with as many as 6 teams with a chance to win it. Happliy, Vasco da Gama is level on points at the top of the table (with Corinthians) four games to play. For the first time in recent memory all four of Rio’s big teams have a chance to win. Vasco’s path is the most difficult with games against Santos, Botafogo, Fluminense, and Flamengo.

Oh the Maracanã.  The contract process for the area surrounding the stadium was just suspended. There are plans to privatize it before 2013 and Eike Batista wants to use his toupee to cover the stands. The final supporting beam of the old roof has been removed and with the implementation of the UPP in Mangueira, the stadium is completely surrounded, as if it had just robbed a  case of beer and was running down the street into a BOPE nest. Hopefully the Policía Federal will have the courage to surround the band of crooks at the CBFdp, but they apparently weren’t able to get much out of Dr. Jowls when he talked to them the other day.
This is the last post for awhile as I will be attending Think Tank 2: Sport Mega-event Impact, Leveraging, and Legacies in Vancouver. The title of my paper for the think tank is The Mega-event city as neo-liberal laboratory. Here’s the abstract:

The production of sports mega-events in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil is occurring within the context of profound political, economic, and social change. As Brazil’s economy and political structures have stabilized over the past quarter century, the country has assumed an increasingly important role in global affairs. The dominant trends towards neo-liberalism in the global political-economy are being reproduced within the context of a state structure that has traditionally occupied a central role in the national economy. While transitions to neo-liberalism at the national scale will take time to implement, it is within the urban context that agents of global capital are able to shape most effectively space and social relations to maximize accumulation strategies. In this sense, sports mega-events function as mechanisms for the implementation of neo-liberal modes of governance within urban contexts. This paper will examine the processes through which mega-events in Rio de Janeiro are using the city as an active laboratory for new models of neo-liberal governance that are accelerating the transformation of Brazilian society.

25 October 2011

Rotten to the Core

Ok, so no one liked or got the Gangrene Cup pun. The 2014 World Cup is supposed to be the Copa Verde, playing on an erroneous perception of Brazil as a "natural paradise" while greenwashing the environmental destruction that more than two million km of air travel will wreak. So, perhaps a Shakespeare reference to get us going today, albeit an obvious one. 

There is something rotten in the State of the Copa. Not only is the government forced to create a state of exception to allow the Trojan horses of FIFA and the IOC into the country, but the people who are opening the gates are as incompetent and corrupt as the fazenderos themselves. 

Orlando Silva, who I have long criticized as an incompetent hack and an embarrassment to millions of communists both dead and alive, is struggling to keep his head above the turbulent political waters in which he suddenly finds himself. Last week, Veja (which is not so much a magazine as a blunt political instrument), published an exposé on the good minister and his shady relations with a Military Police officer that also ran some sport’s outfit sponsored by the Ministry of Sport’s Segundo Tempo program. Silva is not doing himself any favors by quoting Pablo Neruda in order to proclaim his “invincibility”, but at least he’s got a sense of humor (or is giving us a good laugh at his expense).

One of the reasons for this attack is that opposition parties are trying to get their hands on the Ministry of Sport’s top spot. The MoS has seen its budget increase by 63% in the last year, a greater percentage than any other ministry, reaching R$2,5 billion in 2011. This is likely to keep increasing as the mega-events go super nova and the state starts paying the orchestra to play even louder to drown out the screams coming from the stinking ship.

Another reason for the attack from Veja could be that Editora Abril, which publishes the rag, is an official sponsor of the 2014 World Cup. There has been open warfare between FIFA and the CBF against Silva who has failed to deliver on his promise to get World Cup legislation passed fast enough and with enough goodies for the Swiss-based gang’s pleasure. By undermining Silva’s already tenuous credibility, Veja has stimulated investigations into allegations of corruption and taken him out of FIFA’s hair. Dilma has responded by taking away Silva’s role as the primary interlocutor between the federal government and FIFA but has for the moment left him at the head of the MoS.

One of the main bones of contention between the Brazilian federal government and FIFA is so absurd as to be laughable, if it weren’t so pathetically base. In Brazil, students and kids under 12 get half-price admission to soccer games. FIFA wants to do away with this so they can make more money on ticket sales. The percentage of money FIFA makes on ticket sales for kids has to be so miniscule as to not even merit attention. This is not to even consider that most of the stadiums are probably going to be empty anyway, or that the percentage of Brazilians in the stadiums for the world up is likely to be lower than 50%. There’s also the question of beer sales but one can’t really expect national law to be respected in this regard especially as the Brazilian company AmBev owns Budweiser. In case you thought that Veja wasn’t in bed with FIFA, here’s their description of why Brazil absolutely has to give everything over to FIFA.

This is happening at the same moment that a federal inquisition is installing a commission to investigate Ricardo (Dr. Jowls) Texeira and the CBFdp.  This investigation was given some propulsion by the news that FIFA is going to give access to long-entombed Swiss court documents that will likely name Texeira and the godfather João Havelange as recipients of bribes from the FIFA/ISL scandal in the 1990s. As Andrew Jennings has long said, this is an international, organized crime family that should be treated with all of the respect and deference given to common criminals. Jennings is headed to Brasilia this week to testify before the federal commission.

No one is sure how these events are being structured. A few weeks ago at a presentation given by the Rio 2016 organizing [sic] committee a vague and confusing diagram showed international journalists just how transparent things are going to be. Carlos Nuzman, in addition to heading up the Brazilian Olympic Committee is also the president of Rio 2016, and is also the head of the Rio 2016 Executive Committee and the General Assembly. Nuzman is also trying to get the IOC age-limit rules changed so he can remain in the circles of power past his 70th birthday, the legal retirement age from IOC posts.

Sports mega-events cram Trojan Horses full of Black boxes, violating national sovereignty in order to turn public money into private profit within increasingly militarized and fragmented cities planned by public relations firms and directed by intentionally opaque and un-responsive parallel governance structures that act in the service of capital and at the expense of the citizenry. I sincerely hope that I will, one day, find evidence to the contrary. For now, that sentence sums it up. 

24 October 2011

A Copa Gangrenosa - The gangrene Cup

The 2014 World Cup Schedule is out! I know you have all been waiting to hear what I think about it but I will let you make up your mind by showing you some data.


Group A cities
Games
São Paulo
BRA:A2
Team
KM game 1-2
KM game 2-3
TOTAL KM
Natal
A3:A4
BRA
3127
2200
5327
Fortaleza
BRA:A3
A2
3971
5698
9669
Manaus
A2:A4
A3
537
800
1337
Brasilia
BRA:A4
A4
5985
3490
9475
Recife
A2:A3
13620
12188
25808



This is the table of games for Group A, which will be headed by Brazil. Each group in the 2014 Cup will play in six cities. The table above charts the cities, the teams that will be playing, and the travel distances for each team between those cities. If we follow Brazil (A1), they play in São Paulo, Fortaleza, and Brasília in the first round. The distance between São Paulo and Fortaleza, 3127 km. Between Fortaleza and Brasília is 2200km = 5327km. Team A4, will have to travel 9475km between the cities they play in (Natal-Manaus-Brasilia). the group as a whole, for six games will travel at least 25808km.

This does not, of course, take into account that Brazil will have their training center in Rio de Janeiro and will fly back and forth between games. Assuming that Brazil makes the semi-final, the team will travel 16,110 km. Brazil’s travel schedule is not as bad as it could be. For instance, whichever team has the misfortune to be G4 (in 2010 it was North Korea), the travel distance for two flights will be 11683km (Natal-Manaus-Recife).
Ok, so the teams have to travel a lot, an average of 3239km per game between the cities for the first round, or a total of 136,052 km. (Remember this does not take into account the distance for the 31 teams to get to Brazil, the return trips to training centers, or the movement of FeeFã people that accompany the games). If we even half-heartedly believe in the tourist numbers thrown about by the organizing committee and assume that the generalized financial crisis will have ebbed and that the Mayan calendar page turn isn’t a mega-event of its own, then we can add 300,000 tourists who will want to follow their teams around Brazil. Say, 5,000 people per game? That’s 20 flights x the average distance of 3,239 per game x 42 first round games = 2,720,760 km of air travel.

On the bright side, some of the stadium roofs will be designed so that they recycle rain water into the toilets. How quaint.

Other interesting tidbits of info that came out of the 2014 WC schedule: stadia that are being designed as white elephants will receive the fewest games. Cuiabá: 4; Manaus: 4; Natal: 4; Recife: 5. Combined, these cities are investing R$1,9 billion (so far) in stadium construction in order to host 17 games of football. That’s 2040 minutes of jogo bonito, or R$93,137 for every minute of World Cup action!!!! There are also huge discrepancies between the distances that teams will have to travel which will surely have an impact on fans and players. Here’s the full schedule, feel free to crunch the data and come up with your own conclusions:
   
Group A 
Games
São Paulo
A1:A2
Team
KM game 1-2
KM game 2-3
TOTAL KM
Natal
A3:A4
BRA
3127
2200
5327
Fortaleza
A1:A3
A2
3971
5698
9669
Manaus
A2:A4
A3
537
800
1337
Brasilia
A1:A4
A4
5985
3490
9475
Recife
A2:A3
13620
12188
25808

Group B
Cuiaba
B1:B2
Team
KM game 1-2
KM game 2-3
TOTAL KM
Salvador
B3:B4
B1
2017
852
2869
Porto Alegre
B2:B4
B2
2206
1109
3315
Rio de Janeiro
B1:B3
B3
1678
429
2107
Curitiba
B1:B4
B4
3090
711
3801
São Paulo
B2:B3
8991
3101
12092

Group C
Belo Horizonte
C1:C2
Team
KM game 1-2
KM game 2-3
TOTAL KM
Recife
C3:C4
C1
716
1133
1849
Brasilia
C1:C3
C2
2348
537
2885
Natal
C2:C4
C3
2135
2200
4335
Cuiabá
C1:C4
C4
298
3543
3841
Fortaleza
C2:C3
5497
7413
12910

Group D
Fortaleza
D1:D2
Team
KM game 1-2
KM game 2-3
TOTAL KM
Manaus
D3:D4
D1
3127
2947
6074
São Paulo
D1:D3
D2
800
2061
2861
Recife
D2:D4
D3
3971
586
4557
Natal
D1:D4
D4
5698
298
5996
Belo Horizonte
D2:D3
13596
5892
19488

Group E
Brasilia
E1:E2
Team
KM game 1-2
KM game 2-3
TOTAL KM
Porto Alegre
E3:E4
E1
1336
4036
5372
Curitiba
E1:E3
E2
1446
1678
3124
Salvador
E2:E4
E3
711
852
1563
Manaus
E1:E4
E4
3090
5009
8099
Rio de Janeiro
E2:E3
6583
11575
18158

Group F
Rio de Janeiro
F1:F2
Team
KM game 1-2
KM game 2-3
TOTAL KM
Curitiba
F3:F4
F1
439
1712
2151
Belo Horizonte
F1:F3
F2
2017
2566
4583
Cuiaba
F2:F4
F3
1004
1372
2376
Porto Alegre
F1:F4
F4
1697
2206
3903
Salvador
F2:F3
5157
7856
13013

Group G
Salvador
G1:G2
Team
KM game 1-2
KM game 2-3
TOTAL KM
Natal
G3:G4
G1
1389
800
2189
Fortaleza
G1:G3
G2
5009
3490
8499
Manaus
G2:G4
G3
537
2200
2737
Recife
G1:G4
G4
5985
5698
11683
Brasilia
G2:G3
12920
12188
25108

Group H
Belo Horizonte
H1:H2
Team
KM game 1-2
KM game 2-3
TOTAL KM
Cuiaba
H3:H4
H1
439
429
868
Porto Alegre
H2:H4
H2
1712
711
2423
Rio de Janeiro
H1:H3
H3
2017
852
2869
Curitiba
H2:H3
H4
2206
1109
3315
São Paulo
H1:H4

6374
3101
9475

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