12 August 2011

FIFA comes to Rio, not all is well

FIFA descended upon Rio de Janeiro for the 2014 World Cup Qualifying Draw during the last week of July. The city government shelled out R$30 million to Geo Eventos, whose parent company is O Globo, to host the party.  FIFA demanded that the Santos Dumont airport be shut down for hours and the Very Important People arrived at Eike Batista’s (Brazil’s richest person) Marina da Gloria in limousines escorted by police motorcycles. The normal, pathetic media frenzy ensued: no answers of substance were given to questions of weight and interminable platitudes met the inevitable softballs. Pelé showed up at the behest of President Rouseff but did not cross paths or exchange knowing glances with Ricardo Teixeira. Yawn.

Out on the streets were a thousand protestors flanked by riot police. The Comitê Popular da Copa e Olimpíada spent months organizing the protest and was able to gather a sizeable and vocal group that, among other things, was demanding the head of Teixeira. This head controls the CBF and Brasil 2014 and has been under increasing media and government scrutiny, including a highly revealing article in Piauí. This was the largest, earliest anti-FIFA movement in the history of the World Cup and was a very encouraging sign that not everyone in Brazil is going to passively accept the autocratic implementation of legalized robbery.

Just before the events of July 30, the Ministério Público RJ held the first Audiência Pública (Public Hearing) to discuss the Maracanã construction process. That this was the first  public hearing about the stadium’s fate speaks volumes about how the World Cup is being carried off. That the Maracanã underwent R$320 million in reforms in 2006-2007 to prepare it to host the World Cup screams for massive judicial inquiries into the management of Rio’s public facilities. These reforms, as I have shown here on various occasions, have dis-characterized the stadium, transforming it from an iconic public space of cultural production into a sanitized space of consumption. The Audiencia Publica did nothing to discourage this view.

The discussants were Professora Sonia Rabelo, Professor Carlos Lessa, the head of EMOP (Public works for the state of Rio) Icaro Moreno Junior, the president of IPHAN Luiz Fernando de Almeida, and the procurador from the MPF Mauricio Andreiuolo Rodrigues. The debate circulated around the idea that the construction project should be stopped because what is being destroyed has been protected by IPHAN as a cultural patrimony and that the Novo Maracanã project will completely change the stadium’s character. On the side of the people were the professors, on FIFA’s side EMOP and IPHAN.

The most disturbing element of the discussion came from the IPHAN president. After asserting that the only criteria being used to evaluate the project was the preservation of the ethnographic character of the stadium, the 100+ people in the audience were treated to a spotty video of the new stadium. It showed what could have been the inside of a shopping mall or a closed condominium complex. I asked the IPHAN president whether or not he agreed that we were being shown an ethnographic film that pertained to the upper classes and if this was consistent with the character of the Maracanã. He responded by saying that for him, the preservation of the ethnographic character was “ to host the World Cup in the Maracanã” and that “if you want to have a FIFA World Cup one has to abide by what FIFA demands”. In short, IPHAN has sold out, bowed to pressure, showed no spine or integrity in relation to the Maracanã  - forever altering the character of the stadium and saying, basically, that if we don’t like what has been done to the stadium after the World Cup (especially the roof, which was the center of the debate), we can demand that it be restored. I’ll let the reader decide if this makes any damn sense at all.

Following the Audiência there was rumor that the legal system had intervened to stop the project but this was just rumor. It appears that the project, whatever it is, will continue apace and that the Maracanã in 2013 will, as the EMOP president recently stated, “be recognizable as the Maracanã by those who see it from a distance”. Great. Well done lads! 

Here are some photos of what has been lost. 

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