From the opiate of the masses to fuel for civic engagement
By Ana Vimieiro
Last week, FIFA’s secretary general Jérôme Valcke got involved once again in a controversy with Brazilian authorities. After last year’s polemic episode when he suggested Brazil should push itself (“kick its arse”) to meet World Cup deadlines, this time he responded to criticism from Rio de Janeiro’s mayor, wryly remarking that there is no World Cup without stadiums and asking if Brazil wanted to play “on the beach”.
The nudge came after Mayor Eduardo Paes told ESPN’s affiliate in Brazil, that FIFA was not interested in infrastructure projects and other social legacies, “FIFA worries about stadiums…Do you know how many times they asked me about the Transcarioca (one of the few transportation infrastructure projects in Rio)? None”, asserted the mayor.
FIFA’s Valcke, who last year had to officially apologize to the Brazilian government after the “kick its arse” episode, seems to be adopting a variation of the strategy FIFA is using regarding the protests that gripped Brazil during the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup.
The rule seems to be to ignore troubles and dissociate connected things. For instance Joseph Blatter, FIFA’s president, insisted that the protests had nothing to do with the event, even though he was booed as much as the Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff in the opening ceremony.
They weren’t saying boo-urns
The Brazilian journalist Jamil Chade, correspondent of the newspaper O Estado de São Paulo in Geneva, perceptively revealed FIFA’s next moves in a recent interview: “FIFA insisted that they weren’t the target of the protests. But yes, they were. And now…the strategy is to try to show the world that those protests are part of a country in transformation, but that FIFA was only used as a stage, and that FIFA and the World Cup are dissociated from them”.
FIFA officially stated that the Confederations Cup was a success. And actually, in terms of attendance and TV audience, it was indeed. However, FIFA did not see the protests coming and it is now afraid of what will happen during the next year’s World Cup. “We know we are going to see more protests in 2014”, concluded Chade.
Valcke’s recent provocation works very well as a lens to understand how the protests were indeed also against FIFA.
When Brazil won the bid to host both the Olympics and World Cup the promise was that they would be privately financed initiatives, and also that they would encourage a series of infrastructure projects- something Brazil urgently needs. These promises were particularly important with regards to the World Cup—the more expensive of the two events.
However, Brazil is now stuck with a $US18.6 billion bill (maybe even more, because this figure is from 2012), which will be paid almost exclusively from the public purse (98.5 percent, to be precise). FIFA, on the other side, was exempt from paying R$1 billion (US$425 million) in taxes and is awaiting its most profitable World Cup in history: something around R$8.8 billion (US$3.7 billion).
Eduardo Paes, who is actually a rather unpopular politician, cannot be completely wrong: FIFA does not appear to care about anything but stadiums. For instance, most of the promised infrastructure projects have been canceled, reduced, or delayed.
But what is FIFA complaining about most? Stadiums. And most of them are actually already finished.
This is why protesters carried banners with “FIFA go home” or “We love soccer. We hate FIFA” on the streets last June. And it is why frustrated Brazilian called for “FIFA standard” hospitals and schools.
Because the stadiums, paid with public money, are there, just beautiful as FIFA demanded. Some of them, like Mané Garrincha, in Brasília, “only cost” twice its original budget: R$1.2 billion (around US$510 million) in view of the initial R$600 million.
Altogether, Brazil is a perfect example of FIFA’s problematic and unsustainable approach to the World Cup.
Something like “let’s ask the hosting countries for modern, world-class stadiums, so we can show them off along with our dear sponsors on TV screens around the world.”
But let’s not talk about those who are being evicted from their homes because of our event; or let’s not talk about cultural heritage sites under risk because of our “sanitized” World Cup idea. And let’s not talk about the work conditions of people building the stadiums (read about all of that here).
FIFA, of course, does not have anything to do with any of those issues; those are the problems of the host country, obviously. How convenient. Put everything on the shoulders of developing countries.
During the “on the beach” interview, Valcke also said that FIFA had learned from Brazil that the organization should require national approval before analyzing a bid to host its event.
In other words, as Brazil did not accept all FIFA’s demands, it would be better to ask the next candidates to get legislative approval for everything before they are even accepted as host. This would be perfect for FIFA. No complaints, no interference at all in its business. Everything the way they want.
A better tomorrow
Well, after the protests I saw in Brazil, I would say that we have the perfect moment to scrutinize the relationship between politics and football. It is such a timely topic because in Brazil (and Latin America in general) we see football frequently used for the most pernicious of political ends.
At the same, in Brazil and Latin America, we have the greatest examples of football as a fuel for civic engagement; as a rallying point for demonstrations of civility and care for the common good.
I wish those outside Brazil could watch the superb series of documentaries, recently produced by ESPN Brasil, entitled “Memórias do Chumbo: O futebol nos tempos do Condor” [Memories from the Years of Lead: Football in the Condor Times].
The series does a masterfully examines the dark days of the military dictatorships in 1970s Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Chile. From documents and interviews, director and journalist Lúcio de Castro explores how football was used by all of them to promote the military regimes and to silence the revolutionary left.
Those were difficult years for people in those countries, even though their football teams and clubs lived some of their greatest times.
Last June, we had the opposite in Brazil. It is such a symbolic change to see people protesting inside and outside the stadiums, in democratic and almost entirely peaceful demonstrations.
I hope the anger that FIFA triggered in “football’s country” will push the most important football body to review its own policies. The game needs a change in the way it is governed (a little about it here), and the people—the football fans—need to be heard. Let’s say it: a little bit of democracy does not hurt anybody. It is actually good for FIFA, and for its long-term sustainability.
FIFA could actually learn that from the Brazilian government, which is right now trying to handle the grievances instead of denying the problem.
Ana Vimieiro is a PhD Candidate at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT), Australia. She is researching online football communities in Brazil, with a special focus on fan activities on Twitter and is a supporter of the Brazilian club Atlético-MG. Check her out on twitter @carolvimieiro.
Se Mancha Covers Brazilian Protests
The Gringo’s Guide to Demonstrations in Brazil (Carlos Góes)
The Roar of a Nation (Joel Covelli)
Istanbul & São Paulo: A World Apart, a World United (Cornelius Fleischhaker)