25 March 2012

Chile 2015? Yes, Chile 2015.

Are they insane?

Yesterday, or quarta feira or tomrorrow, it doesn't matter, the 2015 Copa America, Brazil, changed its name to 2015 Copa America, Chile. It won't be until 2019 when what was to have happened in 2015 actually occurs, but by then it may be too late for Brazil 2015 to have happened in the first place. Like that sentence, it doesn't make any damn sense at all.

Are we so dead that this goes unnoticed?

Here's a nutshell of events that led up to Chile 2015. That nutshell is stuck in your throat, so read quickly.

FIFA elections in 2010 pit the Havelange-Texeira clan against Blatter. Blatter, Havlelange's criado, had learned the master's game too well, using his own involvement in the ISL/FIFA scandals to twist the arms of the Brazilians, who had  thrown their lot in with Quatar's bin Hamman. Bin Hamman gets a life ban for corruption, Texeira is damaged but not out. Meanshile, his cozy assocation with Lula meant nothing to Dilma and R.T. was suddenly like a dog begging for attention after being shut out of the master's house. Without political coverage at home or in Switzerland, Texeira gets peptic as Brazil 2014 unfulrs into a three sheet shite storm. Say that five times while you're thinking: Russia 2018, Quatar 2022. Huffing and puffing, Texeira organized his pill box more than the Local Organizing Committee.  Sick, tired and longing for an endless series of injections in Miami, Texeira gets a unanimous vote of confidence form the 27 federations, supposedly with the promise that he would not resign. The next week, Ricky claims sicky, resigns from the CBF and the LOC, replacing himself with a 78 year old patsy where he could very have well done with a clown, with apologies to Ronaldo. The following week, he resigned from the FIFA Executive Committee, redeeming himself by putting a clown where he could have put a patsy. The week after, the "new" CBF president, after meeting with Texeiras friends at CONMEBOL, calmly announces that the 2015 quadrennial, already scheduled to take place in the non-World Cup cities of Goais and Belem, will not bring unending streams of tourist money, solve poverty, eradicate pollution, resolve transportation ills or cure any dangerous tendiencies to clarity of thought and action until the last year of Brazil's twinkling teens.

The official reasoning for the shift was that the interminable sequence of mega-events would interrupt the Brazilian football calendar four consecutive years. Instead of opening the possibility of a calendar reform which most commentators see  as the primary mechanism to give clubs more autonomy and reduce the deprecations of the European transfer market on Brazilian players. When there is no posibility of re-thinking, other things need to happen. When there is no accountability, no mechanism of interaction what can we reasonably hope for? Change the Brazilian football schedule and the argument for changing the Copa America disapepars, leaving this as yet another arbitrary decision that perpetuates the status quo.

No one is willing to recognize the right of the fan to have a voice in the running of fooball, or sport in general. Even Carta Capital, which published an expose on the recent change of powers at the CBF, giving some god insight into the new power players, only ever keeps the discussion at the level of institutional big-wigs. Yet, even if those possibilities were there, would people use them? In Rio, not if it's raining.

It is difficult to tell how large these shake-ups in Brazilian sport are. It may be like the 2008 financial crisis when Obama decided to restore to full health and replicate with even more nitidez the nearly collapsed banking system instead of using the moment to make meaningful reforms. It may be that some of the older thoroughly rotten fruit is falling of a tree whose roots are ever more intertwined. This tree is certainly a jaca, which may be why all of these guys look so good.

100,000 formigas to the stadium!

20 March 2012

Going, going, nearly gone

There have been some big shakeups in the world of Brazilian football and more are about to happen. Today, or yesterday, it doesn’t matter, Ricardo Texeira, Mr. Jowls, Sickly Ricky, resigned from his post on the FIFA executive council. FIFA says they want an “immediate replacement”, ostensibly before anyone can notice that R.T. will be replaced with someone just like him, only healthier.

Grondona, a virile physical specimen
Nice medal, but who ate all the pies?
CONMEBOL, the South American football confederation, has three members on the FIFA executive committee. The remaining two are old school gangsters – Nicolás Leoz, a Paraguayan strongman, and Julio Grondona an Argentine snake in the grass. Both have been in power since the 19th century and are long overdue for one way tickets to Miami via Devil's Island. That nothing ever changes in South American football while the quality of play is detonated by the export of the best talent to Europe should concern the continent’s sporting press. The only voices in the shiny, happy wilderness of increased consumer consumption continue to come from the good lads at ESPN Brasil. I keep wondering how much longer it will take for ESPN’s parent company, Disney/ABC, to figure out that their mouse ears are being continually tweaked by Júlio Cruz and Juca Kufuri.

On a lighter note, João Havelange has been hospitalized with what appears to be a serious infection. Incredibly, unbelievably, yet predictably, I received an email yesterday citing this criminal mastermind for the Nobel Peace Prize!!! Havelange’s family fortune came from made millions dealing arms between Belgium and Brazil and then from building bus companies. Havelange coddled dictators and murderers throughout his career always asserting, “I don’t do politics I do sport.” He was cozy with the military regimes in Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay and was constantly re-elected to the top spot of FIFA by greasing the palms of Asian and African dictators. Since 1974 he has been pulling the strings at FIFA. Blatter is his creation. Sickly Ricky was his son-in-law.

When the 96 yr old Havelange shuffles off this mortal coil in the next days or weeks, it’s only a matter of time, get ready for a white-washed version of his “grand contribution” to global sport. Nobel Peace Prize, indeed! The man should be tried at the Hague! Nuzman, head of the Brazilian Olympic Committee and Rio 2016, went to kneel at his bedside yesterday, like a loyal godson gathering a few more pearls of raspy-throated wisdom. I am going to make myself preemptively sick so that I can pick up the obituaries with something approximating calm.

Was it something they ate? Go get 'em Andrew!!!!!
This may be the physical end of the Havlange-Texeira era but their legacies have created a scoliosis-ridden sporting body that will take the rest of us decades to correct. All it will take to rub the shine off these Teflon-coated gangsters is the release of those Swiss court documents that chronicle the extent and depth of the corruption scandals that these two were involved in.

For those of you that missed it, Romário, the former world player of the year and now state deputy for Rio said that Texeria’s removal from positions of authority at the CBF was akin to “removing a cancer from Brazilian football.” Touché, my good deputy.

13 March 2012

Texeria Fora! E Daí?

Yesterday, an axe fell on the head of the serpent. Ricardo Texeira, the president of the Brazilian Footbal Confederation (CBF) for 26 years resigned less than a week after he was given a unanimous vote of confidence by Brazil’s 27 state football federations. Texeira came to power by virtue of his marriage to the daughter of João Havelange, president of FIFA from 1974-1998. The old man was probably controlling most of the big decisions of little Ricky but then he too came up against corruption charges and was forced to resign his position at the IOC a few months ago. Two of the biggest names in Brazilian sport have fallen in the past three months. What this means is unclear as João H. is still held in absurdly high esteem and R.T. is bound for the land of fugitive Latin American criminals, Florida.

We have Andrew Jennings to thank for much of these developments. Andrew has been tireless in his investigations into FIFA corruption. Once he started pulling on some threads it wasn’t long before he found the Havelange-Texeira clan knee-deep in merda. We can also point to petitions circulated by the Associação Nacional dos Torcedores e Torcedoras (ANT, www.torcedores.org.br), which called for the head of Texeira throughout 2010, collecting thousands of signatures. The combination of rigorous investigative journalism and civil society activism is powerful – let’s hope that the documents being released by the Comitês Populares in Brazil will have similar effects on the abusive and opaque reign of Carlos Nuzman at Rio 2016 and the Brazilian Olympic Committee.

The loss of Texeira will not, unfortunately, change much about the fundamental structure of the World Cup. His daughter, Joanna Havelange, is the Secretary General of Brazil 2014. Her qualifications for this job were the same as her dad's, none. The rest of the executives for the World Cup are the same people that helped stuff the workings of the CBF inside a black box for so many years. It is important to remember that just last week Sickly Ricky received a unanimous vote of confidence. This allowed him the chance to maintain the power structure through the next CBF election. The acting president of the CBF is 78 years old and recently stole a winner’s medal at a juniors' tournament. The Brazil 2014 Local Organizing Committee has no president yet, but Ronaldo Fenômeno will likely step into that role as a figurehead.

This is a chance to start pulling on even more threads, unraveling the Indonesian-stitched fabric of Brazil’s canary-yellow shirt. I do not have much confidence that the Brazilian media will do this as they are focused on the serpent’s head lying on the ground as the rest of the snake slithers back into its hole to shake off the hangover. This saga has long felt like something out of The Open Veins of Latin America: occasionally a coronel gets shot in his office, but the power structure remains the same. As the Minister of Sport showed the other day, even when the Communists get into positions of power, nothing much changes. 

12 March 2012

Fala sério Ministro!!!!

Politicians are slippery creatures, difficult to pin down. They never respond directly to questions and wrap their flowery vision of an unerring government in a tortured phraseology that makes a Gordian knot out of a shoelace. That they do this intentionally is no surprise, it’s part of their job. But when Aldo Rebelo, the Minster of Sport, one of the elder statesmen of the Brazilian Communist Party (CPdoB), and a former radical leader of the 1970s student movement said, without laughing, “There are no forced removals in Brazil”, he urinated on the smoldering embers of my optimismo.

The quote came during a press conference for foreign journalists in Rio in response to a question regarding the thousands of forced removals underway. In Rio alone, according to a document about to be released by the Comitê Popular da Copa e as Olimpíadas, 6,715 families have already been removed or are soon to be. This was also highlighted in Simon Romero's New York Times article last week. The number in Brazil is many times more. As many as 30,000 people in Rio will be directly removed as a result of the public works underway. Let us be clear: it is normal to remove homes and businesses for large urban projects. It is not normal to spraypaint houses marked for demolition, deliberately mis-inform, grossly underpay for the value of homes, act without legal recourse, and destroy homes before having reasonable and dignified alternatives. The idiocy of the infrastructure projects I will have to leave for another post. If there are no forced removals in Brazil, Rebelo’s definition  is the equivalent to Kristallnacht, an unacceptably low standard.

We should also not accept that our public officials utter the boldest of apologies for policies that are clearly intended to stuff private coffers at public expense. When asked to give an estimate of the cost of the World Cup, Rebelo replied: “We are not spending money on the World Cup, but rather investing in our cities.” Right, pull the other one. He obliged: “There are no social costs associated with the World Cup”. Please, Excelentíssimo, don’t pull any harder, it hurts.

When asked whether or not the Brazilian government had any programs in place to guarantee access to the new stadia following the World Cup, Rebelo started talking about the “colonialist attitude” of European teams that set up base camps in Brazil and drain off talented young boys to Europe. I don’t know of any European clubs that have done this in Brazil (there are innumerable cases in West Africa) and the fact is that they do not need to because the clubs and the CBF are all too happy to continue their obscure, amateurish and export orientated practices. Brazilian teams gain 28% of their operating budgets from player sales and only 11% from ticket sales. Ticket prices have increased more than 70% in the last five years while average attendance has declined by 16% and profits increased by 47%. The clubs are making more money out of fewer people, eliminating the lower classes from active participation in football (except as the paid clowns) and the government is turning the stadiums into theaters. Soon, watching a football game in Brazil will be like watching the NBA: rich whites in the seats, poor black and brown on the pitch. The CBF used to post a list of transfers and returns on its site but likely recognized the dangers of releasing this kind of information.

OGlobo is Rio’s local paper. It’s an embarrassment to journalism but is considered the pinnacle of everything in this provincial town. With a lower circulation than Toronto’s daily papers and a long history of sucking up to power, OGlobo can’t and won't criticize the World Cup. This is especially true given that they have just purchased the broadcast rights for 2018 and 2022. Contrary to the practices of the IOC, FIFA wrote me saying that they “do not divulge the value of their television contracts”. If you’ll forgive the scatology, this is a steamy, non-transparent pile of cocô. 

Is there no sense of irony whatsoever within the Brazilian media? I have never been around so many sniveling sycophants. They appear to only be interested in the tele-novela that is the spitting match between FIFA and the Brazilian government. At the second presser of the day six government apologists lined up to not answer questions about nothing. They sat in front of two photos: one of the Vasco torcida in the Maracanã and one of the Framengo torcida. These huge photos were taken in the old Maracanã: thousands of people standing close together, waving huge flags, homemade signs, hands in the air, fireworks, songs, chants, emoção.

As Ícaro Moreno and Márcia Lins were talking about the “progress” being made in killing the Maracanã and state vice-president Pesão talked about the new lines of finance obtained from BNDES and the International Development Bank, was no one in the Brazilian press able to recognize that the pictures that framed the scene would likely never again occur? Brazilian football culture is being killed by the very institutions meant to protect it. The only thing that (apparently) matters to the Brazilian media is fofoca (gossip), which makes for some righteous indignation about the arrogance of FIFA and some pathetic he-said she-said stories but doesn’t scratch the surface of the cruel reality that is Brazil 2014.

Finally, regarding my suggestion that the Brazilian government nationalize the CBF, Rebelo said that it was legally impossible and that he “complies with the law”. This was said as if the law came before legislators and as if the Law of the Cup weren’t explicitly designed to get around all of the laws that would make more difficult FIFA’s task of sticking their rapacious proboscis into Brazil. The power structure of the CBF needs to be dismantled. The government can do this. Sickly Ricky has gone on a leave of absence from the CBF, leaving in charge the man who stole a winner’s medal from a junior’s tournament. Mr. Jowls is still at the head of the Local Organizing Committee, which may be an indication of the demands of the job.

The Law of the Cup will go to a vote this week, analysis to follow.

05 March 2012

Kicks in the Arse

Last week, Jerome Valcke finally said what we know to be true regarding Brazil’s World Cup preparations – “they need a kick in the ass”. Nonplussed, the Minister of Sport replied that the Brazilian government would no longer deal with Mr. Valcke as an interlocutor. Irritated, Valcke called the Brazilian reaction “puerile” adding that Brazil appeared to be more interested in winning the world cup than hosting it. Sadly for the Brazilians, there doesn’t seem to be much chance of that either.

At the same time, the CBF gathered together the whimpering dogs of the 26 state football federations at the feet of Ricardo Teixeira. Tricky Ricky left the meeting with his power intact. Faced with allegations of international money laundering, receiving bribes, and other malfeasances, Mr. Jowls has an amazing ability to hold on to the reigns of Brazilian football. Let’s not forget that this is the first time that the president of a national football federation is also the president of the World Cup organizing committee. How Teixeira has kept afloat is beyond me.

During Lula’s good-ol-boy government, Teixeira had some solid political coverage. Dilma has changed things somewhat, refusing to meet with him. The president of FIFA has worked to distance himself from this dough-faced dandy leaving a politically isolated figure that somehow convinced the presidents of Brazil’s federations to prop him up through 2014. As I mentioned a post or two ago, I think that FIFA was waiting to see what happened in this meeting to determine what they were going to do with the documents from the ISL money-laundering case. Does FIFA delay releasing the ISL documents in order to preserve the World Cup in Brazil as they look for plan B?

No one has ultimate responsibility for anything related to the 2014 World Cup but that does not mean there aren’t things that need to be done. FIFA cannot be wholly blamed for the stadium cost overruns or transportation projects or the choice of 12 cities across a continent with shoddy airports and no ground transportation. They have a series of demands that they “need” met in order to extract the maximum amount of money in the shortest time frame. FIFA is a pimp for global capital interests, using the World Cup as the emotionally charged smack that blinds us to the accumulation of power and profit. The Brazilian government (at all levels) has used the World Cup preparations as a nominal way to “improve” cities but has repeatedly stepped on the ball in all the ways that I have documented over the last few years. Rio de Janeiro could not, today, handle the World Cup. Other than the completion of the destructive destruction of the Maracanã will that much really change?

With all of this infantile bickering, instead of focusing on the 12 White Elephants, forced removals, idiotic transportation projects, unnecessary hotels, the lack of inter-city transport, the privatization of airports, security, public space, and the massive transfer of public wealth, the media can pay attention to whether or not beer should be allowed in the stadiums or split hairs about whether or not 20,000 indigenous people will be able to watch South Korea x. Slovakia in Manaus. The issues really have nothing to do with Brazil’s ability to build stadia or media centers or airports, but what kind of society is being constructed, how, and for whom.

From a logistical perspective, FIFA is rightly chafed about the delays in everything. This process began four and a half years ago and the legal foundation is still being poured. The Brazilian government is overreacting to FIFA, launching bombast when a more sober consideration of real issues would help. There are major and massive issues to be resolved. Without the legal framework in place, there is nothing that FIFA can do. Without a working relationship between FIFA, the Local Organizing Committee, and the three levels of Brazilian government, this month long party won’t happen. The government isn’t talking to their partners and the communication between FIFA and the CBF/LOC is fractious. I am sure that Valcke and Blatter have thought on more than one occasion: USA 2014


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