28 December 2013

Trigger Finger

For those not following Brazilian football, you might want to keep it that way. Here is the inglorious tale from the end of the 2013 Brazilian championship. Portuguesa, a small team from São Paulo, used the substitute Heverton with thirteen minutes remaining in the last game of the year. Heverton had not completed a two game suspension but the CBF (Brazilian football confederation) had not made this explicit to Portuguesa. Earlier in the year, the CBF had signed a huge sponsorship deal with Unimed, one of Brazil´s biggest private health insurance providers.

The rules of the CBF state that the use of an ineligible player in a game will result in the loss of points won in that game in addition to another three point deduction. Portuguesa´s case (as well as that of Flamengo which had shown their usual alacrity in management and fielded an ineligible player), went before a special sports tribunal which operates outside of any other Brazilian legal framework. In the first vote, Portuguesa lost their bid to keep their four points, arguing that according to FIFA rules the point deduction could be taken next year, that the player in question wasn´t good enough to alter the outcome of the game, and that it was the last thirteen minutes of the last game of the year so the letter of the law shouldn´t apply. The rub here is that the loss of four points relegates Portuguesa to the second division and implies the loss of millions in television revenues. This is no joke for a small club. The second rub is that with the loss of four points, Fluminense will not be relegated and will stay in the first division. It was sad to see the Fluminense fans celebrating in their legal victory what they couldn´t get on the somewhat more level field of play.

The Portuguesa case was then taken to a second round of voting in an appeals tribunal that few had ever heard of. The CBF, as the organizing institution of the charade, was able to nominate multiple members of the tribunal.  In this second round, Portuguesa lost 15-0 (as did Flamengo). The unanimous ruling by a body internal to the organizers of the competition have determined that Fluminense, 2012 champions, will be saved from relegation by a parallel sporting justice system that has nothing to do with justice and everything about keeping the big fish in small ponds. The CBF pays the salaries of those on the tribunal. Fluminense is paid by Unimed as are their lawyers. Unimed pays the CBF. See any conflicts of interest?

In the country that is about to host the World Cup, football continues to be the operated by the Wizards of Leblon. The violence of the 1% of torcidas organizadas dominates public policy for everyone. The violence of the small minority of torcidas is matched by the violence (or absence, or incompetence) of the police, the indifference of the teams and the aloof, uncompromising arrogance of the CBF. As a whole, the best talents continue to be exported like so many pieces of hardwood to European, Middle Eastern and Asian collectors who send them back to Brazil at thrice the price and half the utility. Thus, the quality of football in Brazil is abominably low, the rules confusing, the fans treated like cattle with ATM cards, and the national team is run by a Qatari marketing firm. Yes, that´s right. The CBF doesn´t decide where its own national team will play but under Ricardo Texeira sold the rights to International Sports Events of Qatar until 2022 for the price of US$1 million per game. You might want to think twice about wearing a shirt with CBF on the breast.

The good news coming out of Brazilian football is that a few of the old pieces of wood that have washed up on Brazilian shores have formed a political movement to contest the Wizards at the CBF. Good Sense F.C. (Bom Senso F.C.) staged a number of protests during matches in which players have not moved after the initial whistle, or knocked the ball back and forth to each other in protest of the insane calendar that the CBF has put together for 2014. Brazil is the only country in the world that plays in every month of the year. Top flight teams in Brazil will frequently play more than 80 games a year, with no more than two to three weeks break between seasons. Not that you would know this from looking at the CBF website. The most recent information in English is from 2012.

Unfortunately there is not much to look forward to in the local scene this year. Vasco, relegated. Fluminense, relegated but somehow stayed up. Flamengo, one point off relegation but will be in the Libertadores because they won the Copa do Brasil. Botafogo, squeaked into the Libertadores and have the amazing Seedorf to keep us entertained at R$40 per hour.  The best games, by far, will be those of the Rio State Championship where we can look forward to seeing Bangu x Friburgense. If only the Rio State Football Federation had any practical information about the tournament they run, we could find out when and where the game is going to be played. Sigh. 

23 December 2013

Reloading for 2014

2013 will hopefully be remembered as a year of positive change in Brazilian history. As we have gone through a series of urban and social transformations for huge sporting events, the real fragilities of Brazil came into sharp focus. To host the World Cup and Olympics, special legislation weakened already tenuous institutions. Tens of billions of public funds have been directed to projects that were never discussed with the
public. These privatized projects are justified with the word legacy, but there is no guarantee. The spoken word means almost nothing in Brazil and the very structure of the World Cup and Olympic Games allows for the circus to move on while the locals are left to clean up the elephant droppings. Forever.

The protests of 2013 were partly a reaction to the opaque, exorbitant and authoritarian megas. They also responded to the deteriorating conditions of urban life in Brazilian cities. I see this every day when I walk out of my apartment: bubbling sewage, abandoned buildings, precarious infrastructure, military police sitting on the corner. The protests were not spontaneous expressions of rage, but a big blip of concentrated indignation that is always kept alive by Brazilian social movements such as the Comitês Popluares da Copa.

The violent police responses to peaceful protest exposed the contradictions and brutalities that underlie most facets of Brazilian life. The police do not do policing, they treat the population as a threat to order and have no capacity to work for the public good. They serve at the behest of a very thin slice of Brazilian society – those benefitting from the very projects and conditions that the protesters were on about. There may have been real material gains in Brazil over the past generation, but this does not indicate meaningful social, political, infrastructural or economic reform has been accomplished. Rio is a perfect example of this – a place where issues of inequality and violence are solved through a counter-insurgency pacification program. The knock-on effects of pacification were never thought through or adequately prepared for, exposing Rio´s most vulnerable citizens ever more to conditions of bare life.

2014, without question, will be the shortest year in modern Brazilian history. A late Carnaval, World Cup and Elections will ensure that none of the necessary, difficult work of building a more just society will occur. The events will limit social agency at the same time that the politicians will be handing out crumbs to gather votes. If Brazil wins the World Cup, we will lose even more of our lives to the false delirium of a hollow promise.  
Despite the constant difficulties of living in a city governed by decree and in a state that acts on the behest of the invisible hand, 2013 was a year that demonstrated that there is real potential for collective social action to have an effect. The work of building consensus to create a collective future based on an atomized and self-referential past is tiring, frustrating and slow. The events of 2013 demonstrated that this work, undertaken by millions on a daily basis, can spring to life to challenge those in power with legitimate, articulate and diverse messages. These messages were heard and seen around the world linking Brazilians with Turks, Egyptians, and Circassians in their struggle against authoritarianism. Hopefully 2014 will bring even more people to the streets to raise their fists and voices.

That´s it for another year of Hunting White Elephants. Thanks to the tens of thousands who have visited the site this year and be sure to follow my twitter @geostadia. I´ll be putting up links to journalistic and academic pieces in January and updating the media page. Feliz ano!

16 December 2013

After the rains, the shock

It didn´t take long for the new transportation projects in Rio´s port area to assume the habits of their elder siblings. With the intense rains of last week, the Via Binário filled with rainwater and sewage, completely blocking access to downtown. The city government admitted that their due diligence wasn´t happening but all
The Via Binário gests into the flow of Rio. OGlobo photo
the same slapped the private consortium that is handling the R$9 billion, 5 million square meter privatization of public space
 with a R$100,000 fine. One wonders what will happen when all of the traffic that used to flow above ground through the port goes below sea level and people are trapped inside their cars in a tunnel. 

The Via Binário shouldn´t feel badly for failing its first test. The Metrô flooded. The SuperVia train tracks flooded. The region around the Maracanã flooded completely. The Avenida Brasil flooded. There was no way in or out of the city center where 60% of the city´s jobs are concentrated. The advice of the mayor: “stay home”. Of course, he could have said this earlier in the day before millions made their way across waterworld to never get to their places of employment. Again, how much good does an IMB smart system do when it can only sit by idly and watch a dumb city fall to pieces? In their propaganda video, there is a line that suggests that the smart city center can now predict heavy rains and
Imenjá makes an appearance in Rio´s Zona Norte
move to prevent disasters. It is amazing that only five people died. Hundred were robbed on Rio´s highways as bandidos made the most of stopped traffic. IBM: “The result is a visionary city, equipped to react, predict and plan for current and future events”.

During these wildly unpredictable rains, the Observatório das Metrópeles held a national seminar that dealt with the effects of the World Cup on all twelve host cities. The results were depressing. In every case, the World Cup is stimulating interventions that use public funding and military agents to commodify urban space, increase prices, and reduce access to sport while guaranteeing a suite of “executive privileges” for the cloistered and aloof global elite. Those who were present at the World Cup draw on the Bahian coast witnessed the FIFA president shutting around with a 50 car motorcade. Brazilian officials use the phrase “differentiated treatment” without a hint of irony, as if it were a defining characteristic of a democratic society. For this and for other reasons, the National Articulation of the Popular Committees of the World Cup nominated FIFA as the worst corporation in the world. While there is stiff competition from Gasprom, the campaign is picking up steam.

Three workers have died building the World Cup stadium in Manaus, one fewer than the number of games that will be played there. I wonder how many minutes of silence Herr Blatter will have for them before each of the games? If the ten seconds he allowed for Nelson Mandela is any indication, we may have already been silent for long enough.

Assuming that the stadium is built without more human sacrifice, the four games in Manaus mean that eight teams will play there, 25% of the total field of 32. However, there was a 100% chance that the USA would end up in the Amazon. Given that the USA sends more fans than any other country to the WC, that there are direct flights to Manaus from Atlanta and Miami, and a penchant for eco-tourism...bring the sun-screen, forged notions of Fair Play and bug spray!

Staying with football, we have no idea what the Brazilian first and second divisions will look like for 2014, more than a week after the final games of the tournament. Three teams are relegated from Serie A: Vasco, Ponte Preta and Náutico. However, Portuguesa from São Paulo used a substitute who was in some kind of legal limbo with 16 minutes remaining in the second half of the last game of the year. They tied the game and kept their heads above the relegation line. The punishment for an illegal player is the points that were won in the game + 3. If Portuguesa were to be punished with a four point deduction, Fluminense would be saved from relegation. My money is on Fluminense to be saved from a terrible year in which they went from Brazilian champions to relegation. Flamengo is also facing the same situation as Portuguesa and could face relegation if the sporting tribunal in Rio rules against them. My bet is that the size of the angry crowds outside of the building will encourage jurisprudence to go with the masses. However, if the vote goes for Flamengo, it must surely go against Fluminense. I am changing my bet. I bet that nothing will ever be resolved in Brazilian football as long as the CBF continues along without a massive institutional overhaul. The rest is just a bunch of guys in shorts.

And to get the week off to a flying start, over the weekend the road in front of the Maracanã was closed so that work could get started on a pedestrian overpass that will connect the stadium to the Quinta da Boa Vista. Last night (Sunday), perhaps making use of the fact that no media could get near because of the closed roads, the Rio Military Police shock brigade moved against an occupation of buildings undertaken by members of the Aldeia Maracanã. The terrorism that the state has manifested against a peaceful occupation of indigenous space is a perfect encapsulation of the creative dialogue that has defined the hosting of the 2014 World Cup. 

09 December 2013

Fim do ano, fim do mundo

The end of another year of football in Brazil exposed the putrid state of every element of the game. This video explains some of it:

The Vasco x Atletico Paranaense match was held in the city of Joinville in Santa Catarina State because Altético´s stadium is under construction, and massively delayed, for the World Cup. Vasco needed to win in order to avoid relegation, but their team is so devoid of talent that staying in the first division another year would have been a sporting injustice. Why are Vasco so bad? Anyone out there remember Phillipe Coutinho, now starring in midfield for Liverpool? Ex-Vasco, he was sold to A.C. Milan on the day he turned 18. Vasco´s youth system has been condemned in the courts and the few times they do manage to produce talent, the boys are sold off to the highest bidder. This is same reason for which Fluminense was relegated. They decided to sell their two best players, Wellinton Nem and Thiago Neves, in mid season and brought no one in to replace them. The political-economy of Brazilian football continues to benefit agents and directors at the expense of clubs and fans.

However, the causes for the scenes above have much deeper roots than just the emptying of talent pools and managerial incompetence (read: Vanderlei Luxemburgo). The torcidas organizadas have long standing relationships with club directors. This is not new or surprising in Latin America. However, the fact that there had been violence between the torcidas of Vasco and Atletico PR and that the Military Police decided not to patrol inside the stadium, leaving it up to a private security force, on a day when the Torcida Jovem of Vasco was likely to be at its most aggressive because of the impending relegation…that is another kind of violence in and of itself. The inability of the state to anticipate pre-announced conflicts or of the responsible football authorities to ensure the safe realization of a game is exactly the kind of violence through absence that has as its inevitable counterpoint a boot in the face and a nail-tipped club in the head. Violence permeates Brazilian football at all levels so why are we so surprised when it breaks out in the stands?

Naturally, in Brazil, no one is going to assume responsibility for any of this. The clubs cannot be held responsible for their permissive relationships with the torcidas, the PM´s hands off attitude may be criticized but not investigated, the CBF is tone deaf, blind and unmoving. The only thing that will happen is that both Vasco and Atletico will receive punishments of short duration that will not significantly alter the status quo.

A number of important Brazilian footballers have started a movement to reform Brazilian football from the inside. Good Sense F.C. is calling for a reorganization of the football calendar and for a declaration of labor rights for football players. They issued a note regarding yesterday´s violence saying all culpable parties should be found out. This includes the CBF, the Military Police, the private security firm in charge of the internal policing, the emergency personnel, the board of directors of both clubs and the torcidas organizadas. 

05 December 2013

Smart is the new Stupid

Rio de Janeiro. If cars were bread, the city would be the world´s largest, moldiest, most immobile basket. But cars aren´t edible, and therefore we have the blingest, bestest, most smartest city in the world, full of a thousand hidden treasures and a million kilometers of traffic jams. We can all thank the brilliant privatization initiatives and urban operations and mega-events for the wholesale prostitution of urban space and commodification of our increasingly bare lives. We are being led into an impossible smart future by the rising star of hyperbolic, back room, smart guy glad-handing. In the past weeks, Rio de Janeiro has been selected as “the world´s smartest city” at the Smart City Expo World Congress and his royal munificence Eduardo Paes was elected president of the C40 group of the world´s largest cities. 

Congratulations, Mr. Mayor. It´s just that the city is more dysfunctional than ever, the urban future is being built upon car and bus transportation, the bay and the ocean are too polluted for human use, half of the city is controlled by militias, the other half by drug gangs and a brutal military apparatus,  the mayor wants to build a ski slope in the Madureira park and is more concerned with Woody Allen than with reforestation.

Truly, the marketing machine of the city and state governments are the smartest elements of RJ. I have not done a formal analysis, but Rio de Janeiro must be the only city in the C40 that does not have a map of its bus routes. It must be the only port city that does not use the water for mass transportation. It is the largest city in the Americas with one metro line, which does not a metro make. It may be the world´s largest city that has privatized all of its public transportation and continues to blast highways through dense neighborhood fabric without ever having demonstrated that those lines aattend present or future demand. The Olympic bid books have become the de-facto urban planning documents. Rule by decree, violations of human rights, rampant deficit spending, mega event after mega-event, bubbling sewage, increased congestion, violent police, voracious real-estate speculation undertaken by the state, attempts to close high performing public schools, the elimination of Olympic training facilities and tens of thousands of forced removals. This is the toned and bronzed face of the new smart city.

Now, as we welcome another gang of “global experts”  in the form of the Clinton Initiative (with Chelsea! and the president of Nike, Otavio Marques de Azevedo, presidente da Andrade Gutierrez; Candido Botelho Bracher, presidente e CEO do Itaú BBA; Alessandro Carlucci, CEO da Natura; Sylvia Coutinho, CEO do UBS Brasil; Andre Esteves, CEO do BTG Pactual; Angélica Fuentes, CEO do Grupo Omnilife/Angelíssima; Eduardo Hochschild, presidente-executivo da Hochschild Mining; Jorge Gerdau Johannpeter, presidente do conselho de administração da Gerdau; Kurt Koeningfest, CEO do BancoSol)  - as we receive this cavalcade of the lords of the planet, we will again hear how great Paes and Cabral are performing for this brutally limited audience.

On the positive side, the only really intelligent plan to come out of RJ in recent years has won an important international prize. The Plano Popular da Vila Autódromo (link to download), developed in conjunction with the residents of the Vila Autódromo (whose residents possess title to land and whose existence has been personally threatened by Mayor Paes for 20 years), has won the London School of Economics / Deutche Bank Urban Age Award. The recognition of a plan that emerged through the collaborative efforts of residents, universities and urban professionals is an important political statement on the part of the Urban Age. This will give political muscle to the Plan,  forcing the city and state to work with the V.A. to urbanize. It will also make it even more difficult for Rio 2016 to “clean” the Olympic site for its London-inspired urbanization project. More, the recognition that collaborative, grassroots, bottom up planning can have significant and positive effects on urban environments and social relations should be taken as proof positive that despite being smart, there is still hope for Rio de Janeiro.

20 November 2013

Dengue, Dudu, Dirceu

Now a UNESCO heritage site but always projected as a  landscape
 frontier for capital accumulation
Still believing the Brazil hype? I´ll just touch on three issues in this post, and do not want to be a haranguing voice of despair but until there is good evidence that urban conditions are being materially improved by mega-events or that a meaningful social change towards a more just society is evident, I´ll continue to point out the gaping holes in the gold-framed 17th century landscape painting hung on Brazil´s front door.

 Dengue is still a major problem in Brazil, particularly in 6 of the World Cup host cities (doubling of deaths since 2010 and 217,885 declared cases in Brazil in 2013). Dengue is not really that hard to eliminate if there is sufficient investment in sanitation and a focuses public education program to eliminate stagnant pools of fetid water. The chances of getting dengue are still pretty slim, unless you are living in a poor area of town or in low lying areas, or at a job site…

For the World Cup there is a thing called the Matrix of Responsibilities that each city agrees to as part of its host city contract. In Rio, for instance, the Matrix includes  the Maracanã and the Transcarioca. Of course, the opportunity to include pet projects in all of this in order to “maximize” (read: make as much money as possible) the benefit of the mega-event is irresistible. In some cases, such as Brasilia, none of the urban mobility projects made it off paper and have since been eliminated from the matrix. In Cuiabá, all of the urban mobility projects began on the same day, immobilizing the city for years. Not even Neo could get to work on time in Cuiabá.  In Rio, the re-organization of transport lines in order to make more room for cars has made an impossibly bad system even worse. The mayor first asked for residents to be patient and now has told them to leave work early. Some have suggested that he take his own advice. I wonder how this kind of brutal, arrogant indifference is measured by IBM´s smart city machines. Want to find out the best place to get into gridlock? The new Iphone 5s will cost R$3,600 in Brazil and the promised G4 network likely won´t work.

At least there has been some movement towards completing prison sentences for the corrupt operators of the PT´s monthly kickback scheme. Of course, nothing will stick to the former president even though his former chief of staff and the majority of the PT´s inner circle have now been dragged off to prison. Of course it is good that these convicted criminals have to submit to the law of the land (even though prisons in and of themselves are good for no one). This may indicate that something has indeed shifted positively in the Brazilian justice system.

We know that Brazil already has the most expensive football tickets in the world (relative to minimum wage), but what C.R. Flamengo has done to their fans is beyond the pale. After reaching the final of the Copa do Brasil, the cheapest tickets for the final at the Xaracanã were set at R$250. Minimum wage in Brazil, R$690 a month. A judge intervened and set the cheapest tickets at R$120. The Brazilian clubs are run by amateurs who are articulated politically with a closed and cloistered national football federation that is mirrored by a 2014 Organizing Committee that has no information about its organizing structure and that is trying desperately to convince Brazilians that the World Cup is going to be the best ever. Can we stop with the charade that football tournaments are adequate tools for urban and social development? Mesmo sendo um sapo tamanho cristo redentor, stopping the bombast would make the transfer of wealth program that is the World Cup a little easier to swallow. 

12 November 2013

Jumping turnstiles

So much for going to World Cup matches. For all the criticism I launch, there is still something great about the World Cup. For those of us that mark our lives in four year increments having the tournament in one´s backyard happens once in a lifetime and I was looking forward to riding my bike to the X-Maracanã to catch all of the games there. The ticketing mechanism that FIFA and MATCH have devised is certain to please no one other than those who received tickets. As usual, there is a lack of transparency. Despite my repeated and insistent requests I have not been able to get information about the number and kind of tickets distributed for the Confederations Cup and I am sure that there will be little or no information made available regarding the 2014 World Cup.

Some questions that need answers are: How many ticket requests for the varying categories were made and filled? What is the percentage of tickets available in each category? What is the percentage of tickets being reserved for “hospitality” groups? Why did France (not qualified)receive more tickets in the first allocation phase than Colombia (qualified)? Why did Switzerland receive more than Argentina? Did Herr Blatter give the Pope some tickets in exchange for absolution?

This is what I have been able to piece together after the first round of ticket sales. Looking closely, doesn´t it seem a bit off that only 2% of Argentines that applied got tickets and 27% of Canadians? 


(1) 625,276
(2) 66,646
 (10) 4493
(4) 18,019
no data
no data
(3) 22,257
 (5) 15,401
 (10) 5,021
 (8) 11,326
 (6) 13,507
no data
 (7) 11,628
no data
no data
 (9) 8,082
no data

Yesterday´s ticketing debacle was no less frustrating. I sat in a virtual queue for 3.5 hours only to find out that there were no tickets left for any category for any game other than Cuiabá. Now it is time to dar um jeito and ask my friends from all over the world to register their names with their respective football federations (for the next round of ticketing on December 8) so that I can at least go and see Ghana play Costa Rica in Manaus. If anyone manages to get better data, or a better way to get tickets without working for a multi-national corporation, let me know. 

And if foreigners and the Brazilian Gen Me want to see some images of what the Maracanã used to be like before it was domesticated, deformed and deracinated, have a look at the trailer of this film about the Fla x Flu rivalry:

06 November 2013

Petulant Provincials

It is always a bit of a shock to come back to Rio. The flights are usually long and then one is greeted by immense lines at immigration. The Federal Police have simply not figured out how to do things quickly. In the recently reformed Terminal 2, there are five booths with ten agents controlling all of the international arrivals. There is no room for expansion, just desperation. Arriving from Europe on Monday it took two hours to process a full Lufthansa flight. Imagina na Copa.

There is, of course, no public transportation from the airport and I had forgotten that the King of Smart City had decided to destroy one of the main traffic arteries for a multi-billion dollar real-estate scheme (aka Porto Maravilha). That tied up traffic rather nicely and I spent another hour and a half in a taxi on my way home. As the Cariocas will tell you, there is no more beautiful city to be stuck in traffic. 

Before I jaunted across the pond the upper crust of the state and city governments had sponsored, in conjunction with Deutche Bank and the London School of Economics, a conference on cities. Neither the Governor the Mayor nor the head of the Porto Maravilha (CDURP) project had the courage to show their faces. This is a consistent theme in Rio – when they have to face difficult questions or the well-conceived and executed plans in other parts of the world, they always find a reason to stay in bed with the sheets pulled up. They don´t even feel the need to give notice, which might seem normal in the local social context but when dealing with international visitors smacks of petulant provincialism.

This particularly endearing characteristic of the city government was on full display last week during a faked “manifestação” of “residents” of the Vila Autódromo. OBobo, the media hegemon of Brasil,  was quick to declare that the Vila Autodromo residents, instead of demanding to stay, were now demanding to leave. This was patently untrue as the city had paid people to get into buses, shipped them to the center, provided a few with banners while the majority that had gone simply took the free ride and then went about their business in the center. There is no end to the underhanded tactics that the government will use to divide and conquer. This is but one in a long, uninterrupted sequence of petty brutalities visited upon Rio´s poor. There will be a real counter protest of the Vila Autodromo this Thursday in front of city hall.

Little known sustainability fact: there is no place to lock a bicycle in front of the Rio 2016 headquarters. Or city hall. Or the Institute of Brazilian Architects. Or at most grocery stores. Or in front of the train station. Or at the ferry.The BRTs have no bike lanes. Bikes in Rio are only for leisure or the poor or the insane. The vast majority of metro stations have no bike parking and it is prohibited to take bikes on public transport except on Saturdays and Sundays (with the exception of the ferry, which, because of the elimination of the main traffic artery to downtown has become over stuffed, making it even more unpleasant to bring a bike on). In short, mobility projects are essential to urban functionality. Rio is flowing uphill.

On the front page of Obobo yesterday was the following: “Maracanã to receive record public” for the Flamengo x Goias Copa do Brasil semi-final. Those with a memory that extends past the year 2000 will know this to be a clever falsehood – but what of Rio´s  Gen Me? They will have never known the Maracanã with a capacity of 130,000 and might very well think that if they go to the Mararacã they will be part of the stadium´s biggest ever crowd. The clusterbumble of the Porto Maravilha, the Muesu do Amanhã,  telefericos, Eike Batista, OBobo and the State and City governments are a coalition of spaces and agents that are carrying off a deliberate and, sadly, historically consistent project to eliminate Rio´s architectural and cultural history in favor of the ephemeral, botoxified simulacra that is THE OLYMPIC CITY. Blah.

Keeping with the Maracanã theme, Soccerex, the global showcase for white men in suits to gladhand, was cancelled yesterday. The Soccerex CEO said that is was a political decision based on the threat of manifestations. The state government is hiding under the covers. The probable reason was that there is no private sector interest in Brazil to sponsor these global trough feedings because the football industry is relatively small and controlled by amateurs. Over the past three years, the state government has shelled out tens of millions to host Soccerex but decided that this year, they couldn´t or wouldn´t meet the price tag of the consortium that runs the Maracanã. It is doubtful that this means we have entered into a new era of fiscal responsibility, but it could signal that the government is a bit more cautious about blowing millions on more public football events. [except for the R$20 billion being shelled out on the Decmeber World Cup Draw]

And for a brief account of how my presence at the International Football Arena conference went over, have a look here: http://www.insideworldfootball.com/ifa/13529-ifa-closes-with-passionate-debate-on-the-future-for-mega-events

The highlight of the session was always likely to be the match-up between outspoken academic and author Chris Gaffney who has written widely on the social impact of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and is a visiting professor at the Universidade Federal Fluminese, and FIFA's director of communications and public affairs Walter De Gregorio.

Gaffney, in a previous interview with Insideworldfootball, maintained that the top down imposition of mega events on countries, developing countries in particular, needs to change. Entering the lion's den of a predominantly football business audience his opinion was no less forthright.”

And finally, a bit of my presentation at the Play the Game conference in Aarhus, Denmark. This is definitely one of the best sports conferences in the world and brings together a wide range of people in journalism, academia and the world of sport. I will see if I can link the audio of this presentation to the video, but for now, here is the prezi that has a bit of useful data in it.

23 October 2013

Forests and Trees

Favela da Paz, São Paulo. 500 meters from WC stadium
Another week of protests, teachers still on strike, violent police actions, sewage bubbling on residential streets, ill-conceived plans to rework the traffic flows in the city center, international consultants jetting in to pat each other on the back for their clear vision and well-manicured lives, disappearances and summary executions by “pacification” police, diminishing football crowds and record profits, real-estate speculation, institutional blinkardness, macro-economic troubles, frustrated expectations and a constant battle to make the simple things work. Despite the rot these trees of discontent still make for a lovely forest – if you can afford it.

Corinthians/Itaquera WC stadium. R$820 million
The longer I live in Brazil the more clear it becomes that the country is being shaped to guarantee basic human rights to those that can afford to purchase them. In Rio, the access to mobility, education, health care, leisure, sanitation, water and air is conditioned by one´s position in the forest of capitalismo selvagem. Personally, I can´t complain as I have a good job, a foreign passport, a nice apartment and can afford to buy private health care and live in a part of the city that is replete with cultural and environmental amenities. I will not be removed from my house for Olympic transportation lines and do not have my world dominated by milicias, traficantes or the military police. The vast majority of the 13 million residents of Rio do not live like this.

The arrival of the World Cup and Olympics in Rio de Janeiro (and Brazil) are accelerating and consolidating a number of disturbing trajectories. The protests are an attempt to end the processes of privatization, urban fragmentation, spatial isolation, militarization, elitização, forgetting and obfuscation. There are innumerable examples of all of these processes that cannot be attributed to one particular actor. One of the horrible
The fundamental question for the future of the World Cup. Favela da Paz, S.P.
beauties of these events is that they bring together temporary governance regimes and non-state actors that create vacuums of responsibility. FIFA can´t interfere in what the government does, the government has to agree to FIFA demands. The IOC has “certain needs” that the city is obliged to meet, yet the IOC can´t demand that the projects meet social needs. The mega-event coalition uses the state apparatus (within which mayors and governors are sub-altern agents of capital) to divert finances to the creative destruction of a host city. The mega-event industrial complex may be nothing more than a colossal shell game run by Fuleco, whose goal is to accumulate and consolidate power.

09 October 2013

Looking back, thinking forward

We have known since the turn of the century that Brazil would be the World Cup hosts in 2014. This is because FIFA, after the opaque process of selecting the 2006 World Cup hosts (awarded to Germany in 2000 after a last minute abstention by New Zealand´s voting member), decided to employ a continental rotation system: Asia, 2002, Europe, 2006, Africa, 2010, South America 2014, Oceania (read: Australia) 2018. The plan was abandoned in 2007, one day before Brazil was saddled with the 2014 tournament. 

Blatter apparently wanted to guarantee that he could bring the Cup to Africa. This was not a bad idea in and of itself, but it positioned FIFA in the role of an international development agency. That is, in order to justify the outrageously high costs to the hosts, a thousand little development projects had to be created to massage the impact of the transfer of wealth scheme. Back in 2000, the shadow of João Havelange was still creeping along the halls in Zurich, his ex-son in law Teixeira was on the executive committee and lord and master of Brazilian football. It might not have been explicit, but it was highly probable that Brazil, with its emerging consumer market and football history would be the choice for the 2014 World Cup as it rotated through South America. That was 13 years ago. We are still answering questions about Brazil´s “readiness” to host the 2014 Cup. It´s high time that football fans start questioning the urban and social impacts associated with hosting 64 football matches.

Not too early to start thinking about it.
In a recent interview with Gerardo Lissardy of the BBC regarding the joint candidature of Argentina and Uruguay for the 2030 World Cup, I argued that if those two countries were to host the Cup again, 2030 is an excellent time frame. 2030 would mark a century since the first Cup was held in Uruguay and Montevideo´s Estadio Centenario would be an amazing place for a final. Thinking about the Cup now, there is an adequate time frame to start planning stadiums, infrastructure and financing so that host cities could grow into and out of the event. That means that World Cup 2030 host cities should be chosen in 2015 and the World Cup should be incorporated into the long term urban plans of the cities. Of course, this has to happen with the widest possible network of urban stakeholders, with the common goal of minimizing impacts and costs and maximizing benefits. With an eye to sustainability, by 2030 most of the octogenarian old guard of South American football could help grow the grass of the stadia.

A forward thinking urban development model is clearly not what we have seen in the 21st century editions of the World Cup and European Championships (not to mention the Olympics). Korea / Japan 2002 scattered 20 stadiums across the hosts, most of which are unused. Portuguese politicians are looking for ways to destroy stadia built for Euro 2004. Germany was Germany in 2006, and appears to be even more German now. South Africa paid out billions, dislocated tens of thousands from their homes, excluded even more from formal participation in the economy, has rotting carcasses of white elephants strewn about and did not advance football in the country even a little. The Bafana Bafana failed to qualify for 2014. In 2012, Poland and Ukraine paid dearly for the Euro and will likely see their buildings collapse into a quicksand of debt servicing. Brazil, as readers of HWE know, is a 20 billion dollar comedy of errors. The promised urban improvements won’t be ready, the militarization of urban space is ever more profound, and once-loved (though decaying) stadiums have been turned into antiseptic nodes of casual entertainment, social exclusion and rapacious accumulation. There are indications that FIFA has recognized that their business model needs to change, that they are perceived as parasites on the hosts and that their “For the Game. For the World.” motto could be interpreted as a quest for global domination of the people´s game. 


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