30 June 2014

Accumulating Brazil

In a normal month of June, Rio de Janeiro hosts at least 16 professional soccer matches. São Paulo will typically see the same number. Salvador typically has around 8 first division matches; ditto Recife, Fortaleza, Porto Alegre, Belo Horizonte and Curitiba. None of these cities will host more than 7 during the World Cup.

Compared to this time last year, Brazilian airlines transported 15 % more passengers per day than they are doing during the World Cup. The airports seem empty because they have fewer passengers. Planes are on time because they have fewer problems getting out of the gate. This is not to say that the Brazilians aren´t doing a good job with airline transport, but that the predicted problems have not emerged because Brazilians were so afraid of the problems that they aren´t traveling the way they normally do.

In a normal month of June, Brazil receives around 600,000 foreign visitors. That is the expected number of tourists that the country will receive for the World Cup. “Normal” tourists have been replaced by World Cup tourists, who are being bilked by hoteliers and tour operators.

In every host city, for every game, there is some kind of holiday. This means that during the World Cup there will be 64 holidays. Bank and government holidays mean fewer people on the streets, freeing up space for the circus acts. Schools schedules have also been altered to keep kids, parents and teachers at home. If kids are not getting to school, parents have to find a way to stay home too.

The holidays, fears of logistical headaches and general party atmosphere have been disastrous for Brazilian productivity – a decline in as much as 30% during the first round of the tournament. These costs are never factored into the general budget for the event. This is in addition to the deficit spending of cities. A little known fact about the World Cup is that all of the host cities were granted an exception to the Law of Fiscal Responsibility (LFR). The LFR prohibits urban administrations from deficit spending. Once released from fiscal responsibility, urban administrations started borrowing heavily and will have to start repaying as soon as the Cup has run dry.

The FIFA-standard stadiums have worked for FIFA, but they are antiseptic containers of global corporatism that negate the history and football culture of the cities in which they sit. We know about the elephantitis and the opportunity costs, we know that the vast majority of people cannot afford to go to football matches, but not many people are talking about the anti-urbanism of these stadiums. In the majority, they are completely isolated buildings, surrounded by a sea of parking and “zones of exclusion”. They may have LEED certification (a form of greenwashing) but they are DUMB in terms of weaving together the urban fabric. 

The party is rolling on and there have not been any major horrors, so the international media parachuters are doing a kind of mea culpa, saying “oh, it´s not as bad as I thought it would be, sorry Brazil, we were unkind.” This is a position that ignores the extent to which the entire country has been retooled to host 64 games of football. The repressive and reactive police mechanism is there to guarantee that this event happens. The upper middle and middle classes from Latin America and elsewhere are enjoying the Brazilian festival while the elites of the world jet into and out of wherever they please, however they please, whenever they please. Yet those excluded from the party are suffering with even more repression than normal, or are hurting from a lack of police coverage because the “normal” coverage has been moved to the World Cup.

The media is underreporting the continuous protests that are unfolding in Brazilian cities. There continue to be strong undercurrents of dissatisfaction with the realization of the World Cup. For the government and FIFA, the amazing football and smooth logistical operations for the tournament have been a blessing. However, in the peripheries, the same repressive and violent police force continues to kill poor black people. While there is more conversation about these kinds of things than there was even two years ago, the World Cup has doubled down on the military model of policing the Brazilian population.

Geographer David Harvey´s concept of accumulation by dispossession is a useful framework to understand all of the processes I have outlined above. The city governments dispossess residents of their streets by declaring holidays, keeping people at home. Public culture and public space are taken from the public realm as stadiums are sanitized, corporatized and privatized. The right to free circulation and protest is limited by the police. Tax burdens for multi-national corporations and FIFA are annulled though special legislation (while the Ghanaian players have to pay taxes on their bonuses received in Brazil and Suarez is deprived of his right to exist as a person while Ricardo Texeira is back in the fold). In short, the entire weight and power of the Brazilian state has collaborated with global financial and political interests to ensure that the World Cup happens in the smoothest manner possible.

24 June 2014

Gol de barriga

Clint Dempsey´s gol de barriga against Portugal sent me into fits of belly slapping. It may be the most famous goal of its kind since Renato Gaucho´s 1995 tally that won the Campeonato Carioca for Fluminense. As I was pounding out a batucada on my stomach it came to me that the bacchanal of the Copa is all about the gol de barriga.

Mysterious circumstances landed me in one of the hospitality suites for the Belgium x Russia match. In order to get there I had to pass through four levels of Military Police, two levels of ticket checkers, one turnstile, and then a credentialing center where I was given a multi-colored wristband that identified my place in the consumption circus.

Once the three business-attired, very thin, very attractive multi-lingual Brazilian women had kitted me out and opened the door to the consumption zone, I was met by the leveled gaze of three very dark, very plump, very unhealthy looking women who were standing in the foyer to the handicapped bathroom. Their dark crimson uniforms said more than they ever would about their position in the hierarchy. Between them and me was a table heaped with salads and deserts. The open bar offered champers, wine, gin and tonic, beer, whisky, vodka, capirinhas. Russians, Belgians, Brazilians were going back and forth to the buffet as the noise of the crowd built outside.

The hospitality sector of the Xaracanã was not close to full when the game started, nor would it be for the match as a whole. Yet the official attendance figures tell a different story. The emptiness of the stands is a reflection of the corporatization of the event as a whole. Mutli-nationals buy up these packages through MATCH and then give tickets as gifts to clients or friends. The major purchasers of these packages in Brazil are the civil construction firms that have made billions through over-priced stadiums and infrastructure for the World Cup.

Here´s the flow: Civil construction firms finance election campaigns. The World Cup projects are hastily proposed in back room agreements between government officials and the civil construction firms. Brazilian taxpayers finance multi-billion real projects that are contracted to the civil construction firms. These firms then spend millions on MATCH hospitality packages. Employees go to the hospitality suites to fill their bellies in the same way that their companies have filled their coffers with public money. Cheap labor increases MATCH´s profits in the same way that slave labor enriches Odebrecht in Angola. Belly size increases while the poor stare hungrily at the banquet table.

This is why it is so easy to score a gol de barriga in Brazil.

22 June 2014

What happens when the Cup of Cups runneth over?

The Cup of Cups is limited to the field of play and even then there are massive problems with the governance of the game. We see innumerable possibilities of concussed players staying on the field after getting dinged. There is no doping lab in Brazil capable of analyzing anything but belly button lint and FIFA is threatening to sanction the Mexican fans for saying “Puto” while tens of thousands of Brazilians call Diego Costa a “viado” with impunity. While we have seen amazing football, been on emotional roller coasters and exposed to the furious athleticism of the male body as consumer spectacle (thank you Puma) this continues to come at a heavy cost.

Scalpers, ticket touts and cambistas who are operating freely around the Maracanã are exploiting the desperation of fans to get into matches. Outside the Spain x Chile match a dodgy looking Englishman tried to get US$ 2500 for three tickets. That is maddeningly expensive and exploitative and theoretically illegal. There were dozens of these transactions happening on a newly constructed overpass that linked the stadium to the hospitality center on the other side of the tracks.  The hastily constructed overpasses and lack of organization may eventually create some nasty problems. Combine this with a military police that is not there to help but to hit, and there is an explosive combination waiting for the fuse to be lit.

Continuing north from the Maracanã and into the Manguinhos favela, at the same time that tiki-taka was dying, the Military Police assassinated Jonathan, a 19 year old, by shooting him in the back. As geographer Carolyn Prouse has pointed out on her blog, the protests that occur far from the eyes of the national and international media are not necessarily against the World Cup but for basic human rights: “There is less circling of the cops with cameras when people are running for their lives. And because favelas are typically depicted as being run by drug traffickers, it is very easy for the state and the media to accuse protestors of being paid by the traffickers, as ridiculous a claim as it may be. This is a form of criminalization of protest activity that rarely sees any media coverage in World Cup reports. And it’s done to silence activists.”

In short, the military model of dealing with insurgent populations has been amplified with the World Cup. While the ostensive policing of areas around the stadiums may be a normal aspect of football culture in Brazil that does not mean that it is acceptable. The cordons sanitaires that are part of the fan experience have their inverse in the cordons du terroire of a repressive police apparatus.

If we think of the stadium as a city in miniature then by looking at what is going on there we can better understand the dynamics of the city. If fans are renting their spaces in the stadium, and those prices are too high for them to pay, then they look for a cheaper seat (in a bar), spend their savings or try to invade. If ticket prices are comparable to housing costs, we see the same thing happening in the mega-event city. The middle and lower classes can no longer afford to live near places of work and leisure, get pushed to the periphery and are forced to cede space to the international tourist class (however defined). Those who try to invade (squat) are treated as criminals and expelled from their occupations. In this sense the deportation of the Chileans who tried to squat  in the Maracanã is the equivalent of the violent repression that Cariocas have faced when they try to occupy vacant buildings. 

The invasions of the Maracanã undertaken by the Argentines and Chileans during the first two games are getting all of the media attention and the security will be reinforced in all stadia. However, this does not go beyond a mere re-entrenchment of the hyper-territorialization of FIFA-space. The continuation of this process by more repressive means is happening throughout the World Cup host cities.

20 June 2014

The Bull Dies

Watching Spain in this World Cup was like going to a bullfight without knowing that the bull always dies. Early 21st century Spanish football revolutionized the game in the most functional sense of the word, moving the game forward into an unexplored dimension. Before opposing tactical systems were designed to cope with and in that dimension, the elegant, lethal force of the bull was irresistible. But once Spain had won everything several times over, their competitive edge was blunted even further by age and the counter-revolution (conjured, perhaps, by the dark arts of Mourinho). This is not to say football has regressed, but the Spanish revolution in football is now in the dustbin of history. This was as inevitable as it was retroactively predictable.

As many other more qualified commentators have noted, the continual evolution of football tactics is accompanied by an across the globe leap in technical quality (just look at all the freestylers out there) and a quantitative surge in player fitness. The spatial science of player positioning and movement must combine with the potential for long term energy output, resilience to physiological damage and intense psychological conditioning. It seems nearly impossible for a side to manage this combination for seven games, yet one team will have to do just that.  

This raises the inevitable question of what is going to happen in the Holland  x Chile match that will decide who goes through to meet Brazil in the round of 16. With both on six points a draw will put Holland top on goal differential. If Chile can put together another performance like today´s they might very well win but could have nothing in the tank for Croatia or Mexico. If they rest and play for a draw, or not be too upset by losing, there is Brazil to play. I don´t know if this is Occam´s Razor, a Nicomachean conundrum, or a Nerudian sonnet.

This is the first World Cup in Latin America since 1986. That is a long time ago. International travel has expanded dramatically and the middle classes have grown. There were at least 70,000 Argentines in Rio for their match against Bosnia. Dozens of them jumped over the walls of the Maracanã. Some of the 40,000 Chileans did the same thing tonight. South of the Rio Bravo del Norte, we are used to this kind of thing and the police reaction it brings. When I see the excessive amount of military police lining the approaches to the Maracanã, it doesn´t seem that out of place because that is how every game is. It´s absurd but normal.

What isn´t normal is the kind of atmosphere that has been produced inside and outside the stadiums.

In the Maracanã, Minerão, Castelão, Verdão, etc, of old there was no clock just a crappy scoreboard with broken lightbulbs. Everyone knew to look at their watches or listen to the radio or ask someone with either one. Many of the best known, most loved stadiums in Latin America are minimalist structures designed to hold tens of thousands of people for two hours as they jump up and down, light fireworks and tumble over each other. Sure, they may not be the most comfortable places but they are actual places. Stands are for standing, if they weren´t they would be called something else. The new stadiums are more comfortable, but they are non-places.

After the Spain Chile match, I walked over and sat in the same place that I sat when the last game was played at the old Maracanã. In 2010, the lights went off within 30 minutes after the game and the cleaning crew came in. There was a profound, rattling silence. There was no television screen and no security guards came by to move me along.

After the game tonight I was assaulted by piercingly loud advertisements. The televisions screamed “BUY THIS SHIT NOW!” while Chileans tried to celebrate their historic moment. The sound was so deafening that it made me want to leave as soon as possible. I resisted. Twenty minutes later, most of the fans had left and the advertisements stopped. In their place some decent Brazilian music wafted about as the stewards kept angry eyes on the partying Chileans and the all-black cleaning crews readied their brooms.

On the way out, the Chileans were in good voice and I sat to give an interview on a metal bench at the Coca-Cola stand. Describing the scene around me was pretty sad as I saw no beer vendors, nowhere for people to congregate and thousands of police. Looking past an Itaú bank stand where I could have gotten instant credit, my eye was caught by a fancy new Hyundai, the official FIFA fan shop and a Johnson and Johnson stand which advertised a “Caring Stadium”.

All of this global corporatism was placed directly in front of the Museu do Indio, Brazil´s oldest indigenous museum. The indigenous community that occupied the building between 2006 and 2013 was violently removed to prepare the city for the World Cup. The justification was that the building would have to be destroyed so that fans could more easily exit the stadium. Now, fans have to walk through an obstacle course where Fuleco and Brazuca block the path to the metro. Expelled from the stadium, we are ushered into a sanitized zone of corporate feudalism where the violence of dispossession is hidden behind the shields of riot police and dulled by the happy buzz of a spectacle well-consumed.  This is what is out of place at the Brazilian World Cup.

17 June 2014

Collecting Resources

Here is a collection of videos, article links and other bits of tasty information for those of you trying to keep up with what is going on in Brazil beyond the football. For less recent media links, check the media page, which I hope to update someday. 

CCTV-Americas: the effect of theWorld Cup on young Brazilians

CCTV-Americas: longer piece about Brazil WC

Beyond the Pitch: the politics and risk of a failed legacy

McClatchy: Brazilians angry with costs

RTVE (Spain): en portada - copa das copas

The Perfect Con; Documentary film about WC 

CBS News: Kicking the Cup

Dominio Público: feature length documentary

NYTimes: what is going on with the protests

Prezi link to my presentation to journalists in SP and Rio

And continuing coverage here on the blog and at FUSION SOCCER

16 June 2014

The state of the protests

The protests are small and I hope the rest of the world is not disappointed. There are many contradictory forces that have kept the middle class protesters of 2013 off the streets. I’ll try to put a bit of perspective on them here before trying to get a plane to the waterpark of Natal for USA x Ghana.

Police violence. The police are under very clear instructions to tolerate nothing and to react with maximum force. We saw this on the opening day in São Paulo and it was repeated again last night in Rio. A group of 200+ protesters was met with twice as many police, helicopters, dogs, mounted police and live ammunition. The videos are frightening. There is nothing more likely to keep disenchanted middle-class people off the street (and to keep their kids at home) than the imminent threat of injury.

It´s the World Cup. We´re all on holiday, there is a party raging and Brazilians are very hospitable. As with everyone else, Brazilians have been waiting for the World Cup for four years and despite the corporate sabotage of FIFA and the Brazilian elites, it´s still the World Cup. Brazilians want to enjoy what will certainly be the last World Cup in South America for many years. While the distance between the World Cup as culture and World Cup as corporate spectacle has never been greater, it is important to reclaim the former and to being the process of re-appropriating football as the people´s game.

The media. OBobo controls the tv, internet, and print media to such a degree that the counter-narratives to the World Cup are very difficult to find. Brazil is still very much a visual and oral culture and the critical media presence is limited to a few programs and newspapers. When such a powerful media force drives the discursive framing of the event, it keeps public opinion moving in the direction they want.

There is a lot of protesting to come. The social movements behind the protests in 2013 have a long road ahead. When the police are out in such force and with such a mandate to repress, it doesn´t make too much sense to go out with the same message. The politicians won´t be listening until after the Cup, if then. The years of protest have had some positive results, but there are times to get the message out louder and more forcefully and it doesn´t make sense to try to compete with the circus.

Tiredness and the existential condition of the left. Combined with all of the above, it would appear that a certain organizational fatigue has set in amongst some of the social movements. The big gatherings end up being organized by a handful of people, time after time, and that gets quite tiring. In the face of the Cup, the typical organizational practices yield less and it appears that everything is more difficult than normal. Added to this is the slight ridiculousness of saying “Não Vai Ter Copa!” when the ball is rolling. Add the traditional fragmentation of leftist movements and the difficult of putting together a unified front and a clear message and the protests are smaller and smaller.

While it is dispiriting to see that the protests are so small, it is important to check one´s disappointment against the perspective one is bringing. Just because there were massive protests last year and smaller ones this year does not diminish the value of what happened or signify that Brazilians are no longer furious with the state of the country.

We are seeing that the fires of discontent are still very much alive but that the forces of the state, capital and the pull of the circus are keeping the flame on a lower burn. Those who are out on the streets are further to the left or right of the political spectrum than those who were out last year and are risking their lives for the right to confront the spectacle.

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