The last World Cup host without a functional first division was the United States in 1994. There were second and third divisions, but no first. In Brazil, none of the CBF´s four divisions started without legal disputes, the state tournaments have become a disgrace and the organizational frameworks of Brazilian sport have rarely been less transparent or more chaotic. Last week, the presidency of the CBF passed from the octogenarian Jumpin´ José Marin (@seeadarkness) to the septuagenarian Marco del Nero. Upon assuming the presidency in an uncontested election, del Nero said that there “would be no changes because things are going very well.” SQN (só que não, “not”, for those putting together a #WC14 Brazilian twitter vocabulary).
Fluminense, whose principal sponsor is UniMed, was saved from relegation because their lawyers convinced the CBF´s sports tribunal that a smaller team should be sent down because the CBF (having just received millions for a UniMed sponsorship) hadn´t informed that team about the status of a player that was sent on as substitute in the last fifteen minutes of the last game of the season. The Portuguesa directorship fought a bit, and then capitulated. Last week, a fan filed a law suit to continue the battle for permanence in the first division and as the first round of the second division was into its 15th minute, someone walked legal papers onto the field and the Portuguesa coach took his team to the locker room. The fans were not pleased. This happened in the same stadium where Vasco and Atlético Paranaense organizadas tried to kill each other at the end of last season [ed: thanks to the anonymous comment at the end of this post, the plot is revealed as much more complicated than I describe here and also involves Flamengo and millions deposited in Portuguesa bank accounts. Follow this link to a timeline (in portuguese) of the events].
There were also legal battles to determine which teams would play in the 3rd and 4th divisions. The CBF manipulated and massaged the tournaments into the form and format that best serves O
and the sponsors. The season will be cut into bits by the World Cup, players
will be sold to Europe, Asia and the Middle East in August, attendances are
miserable, the stadiums are privatized and sanitized, the football is terrible,
the rich teams close ranks within the CBF, there is no transparency, kids are
regularly and ritually abused in the youth systems and the October presidential
elections may depend on Neymar´s 4th metatarsal. The state of
football in the country of football frustrates and depresses in equal measure.
Brazil continues to struggle with the legacy of the 1964-1985 dictatorship. All dictatorships are necessarily anti-intellectual and the evisceration of public education continues to resonate in the halls of power. It is almost fair to say that the leaders and elites of Brazil were educated not to be critical, progressive thinkers and did not develop the necessary skills to deal effectively with complex problems. They also carry with them a very anti-educational cultural perspective that is reflected in the media, in the public education system and in the knee-jerk violent reactions to public crises (aka, send in the shock troops). This is not to suggest that there are not Brazilian intellectuals but rather that the fetishization of a president with a fourth grade education because he is “of the people” is an indication of the level at which most public discourse occurs.
This week I returned to the Favela do Metrô, 500 meters distant from the Maracanã. When I last wrote about Metrô in 2011, the community was under attack from the city government, supposedly to clear the way for a FIFA parking lot. The city behind its internationally acclaimed (sqn) mayor dissimulated, sowed discontent, bulldozed and left the wreckage behind. The majority of residents were eventually able to move into decent public housing across the tracks, but only after years of delay, a lack of transparency and immensely tiring and emotionally draining fights. Now, returning to the place where I once gave an extension course from the nearby university, there are growing piles of trash and a fetid crackolândia. Most readers will never have visited a crackolândia and I do not recommend it. It is the end of the line dominated by young drug traffickers that have no education and less interest. The burned out shells of humans carry deadened eyes that would reveal the depths of despair if one could bear to look at them. The Brazilian reaction to what I am writing will be: “You feel sorry for them? Take them home.” Thing is, many of these people had homes before the government destroyed them in the name of progress. Worse, there is no project to turn the area into something with even marginal utility for the World Cup. It is simply destroyed and left to fester.
As the saying goes, if you´re not outraged you´re not paying attention. The World Cup is one of the great collective cultural experiences that we as humans have managed to put together. However, the use of the tournament to consolidate wealth and power at the expense of the cities, countries and people that host it must come to an immediate end. The business model of the World Cup creates notions of distinctiveness and religious fervor at the same time that it thrives in vacuums of responsibility and regimes of exception.
For example, FIFA is parading its trophy around the world as if it is a religious object. Only heads of state and world cup winners are allowed to touch it. Seriously. People buy into this hokum but never ask who the poor sot was that put the trophy on display, or why. The entire World Cup can only come into being because Brazilian elites signed laws giving the shop away to FIFA through the Lei Geral da Copa. FIFA isn´t responsible for stadium construction, yet their demands drive the architectural projects which are heralded as “sustainable”. The cities and states aren´t responsible for the scope and scale of the projects because they have to meet FIFA demands. The federal government can´t intervene in the running of the national football leagues because they would be sanctioned by FIFA. And around we go. There is neither credibility nor accountability, just rentability.
The tensions are palpable in Brazil as the #WC14 rumbles towards us. Buses are burning in the suburbs and in Copacabana. Dozens were killed in Salvador when the police went on strike. The poor, expelled from their homes, see even the churches close their doors to them. The middle classes are being squeezed though rent and daily living price increases. Traffic jams and high taxes are the existential condition in Brazil. Public works that could have brought long-term benefits are fragmenting neighborhoods instead of creating wide-reaching mobility networks. The militarization of cities is happening in concert with the privatization of public spaces. It´s not all the fault of #WC14 but nature does abhor a vacuum.