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.

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