Posts Tagged ‘World Cup’

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As Brazil prepares to host the World Cup (in 2014) and the Olympics (in 2016) and, I have written before, the favelas are standing in the way. The organizers are hellbent on converting the parking lots for the poor into sports venues and parking lots for sports fans—and nothing is going to get in their way.

Including, as Theresa Williamson and Maurício Hora explain, Morro da Providência—Rio de Janeiro’s first and historically most significant favela.

Providência was formed in 1897 when veterans of the bloody Canudos war in Brazil’s northeast were promised land in Rio de Janeiro, which was then the federal capital. Upon arriving, they found no such land available. After squatting in front of the Ministry of War, the soldiers were moved to a nearby hill belonging to a colonel, though they were given no title to the land. Originally named “Morro da Favela” after the spiny favela plant typical of the Canudos hills where soldiers had spent many nights, Providência grew during the early 20th century as freed slaves joined the soldiers. New European migrants came as well, as it was the only affordable way to live near work in the city’s center and port.

Overlooking the site where hundreds of thousands of African slaves first entered Brazil, Providência is part of one of the most important cultural sites in Afro-Brazilian history, where the first commercial sambas were composed, traditions like capoeira and candomblé flourished and Rio’s Quilombo Pedra do Sal was founded. Today 60 percent of its residents are Afro-Brazilian.

In all honesty, I’m not much enamored of the argument that Providência should be protected because of its historical significance. Williamson and Hora’s worry is a bit too close to the concerns expressed during the Iraq War about the looting of the museums while a government was overthrown and hundreds were dying in the streets.

But Williamson and Hora do make another argument, which does raise alarms.

If Rio succeeds in disfiguring and dismantling its most historic favela, the path will be open to further destruction throughout the city’s hundreds of others. The economic, social and psychological impacts of evictions are dire: families moved into isolated units where they lose access to the enormous economic and social benefits of community cooperation, proximity to work and existing social networks — not to mention generations’ worth of investments made in their homes.

Rio is becoming a playground for the rich.

That’s the ugly side of the preparations for the World Cup and the Olympics. The poorest residents of Rio de Janeiro are being pushed aside—by bulldozers and militarized operations—in order to pave the way for investments only a few Brazilian and foreigners at the top will benefit from.

They are the ones being provided for.

Sócrates RIP

Posted: 4 December 2011 in Uncategorized
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Sócrates (Sócrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira was his full name) has died at the age of 57. Here is the announcement, and here’s an obituary by Brian Glanville.

Football fans remember Sócrates for his time playing at Corinthians and his role in Brazil’s 1982 World Cup team (one of the best teams not to win the Cup), when he scored one of the best World Cup goals of all time.

He should also be remembered for his leadership of the Corinthians Democracy movement. According to Gavin McOwan,

I was lucky enough to interview “The Doctor” in 2002 and was awed by his wisdom and good humour – not to mention the number of beers he could knock back. He was clearly one of football’s great sages, but also held court on everything from his surreal meeting in the Libyan desert with Colonel Gaddafi (who urged Sócrates to run for Brazilian president) to his love of Ché Guevara.

But for Brazilians who lived through the 21 years of the country’s military dictatorship, Sócrates will also be remembered as a social activist and campaigner for democracy, both within the game and on the wider political stage.

While a player at Corinthians, he co-founded the Corinthians Democracy movement, an idealistic but effective political cell which fought against the authoritarian way the club’s management controlled its players, a microcosm of the way the country was governed by the military. Sócrates, together with teammate Wladimir, organised the players to discuss and then vote with a simple show of hands on all matters which affected them, from simple things like what time they would eat lunch to challenging the dreaded concentracão, a common practice in Brazil where players are practically locked up in a hotel for one or two days before a game.

Football—played without timeouts, specialist players, and a small number of substitutions—is a sport that, at least on the pitch, is run by the players as a group. Sócrates and his teammates at Corinthians showed that the players could also make the decisions to organize their work as a collective off the pitch.

Pacifying the poor

Posted: 20 June 2011 in Uncategorized
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Brazil continues to prepare for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games by invading the favelas and either evicting the poor residents or pacifying them by sending in hundreds of police officers and troops backed by helicopters and armored vehicles.

Instead of solving the problem of poverty by sponsoring the games, those who run Brazil are solving the problem of the games by displacing and occupying the poor.

Brazil is scheduled to host the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympic Games in 2016.

But the preparations are running up against the favelas, the communities in which Brazil’s poor live in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, and the other host cities. Like Vila Autódromo (pictured above left), a small community in western Rio wedged between the Formula 1 racetrack and the site of Rock in Rio. It just so happens Vila Autódromo is located directly across from a tract of land the city has designated for construction of the Olympic Village (pictured above right).

According to Reuters, the process of forcibly relocating poor communities has already begun:

Like his house, Jose Santos de Oliveira is an island of resistance.

The middle-aged gardener and his home stand amid the sea of rubble that remains of the slum community of Vila Recreio 2 in the west of Rio de Janeiro. . .

Oliveira, whose house is still standing because he filed a legal complaint against the evictions, said no residents were invited to city planning meetings before bulldozers and trucks arrived to begin demolition work late last year.

Aggrieved residents like him say they are suffering because they have no political clout and their messy shack-like houses don’t fit the image the city wants to project.

“We aren’t garbage, we are people,” said Oliveira, as municipal trucks carried mounds of debris away behind him.

“We are being trampled by the economic powers.”

As Dave Zirin explains,

The Rio housing authority says that this is all in the name of “development” and by refurbishing the area, they are offering the favela dwellers, “dignity”.

Maybe something was lost in the translation. Or perhaps a bureaucrat’s conception of  “dignity” is becoming homeless so your neighbourhood can became a parking lot for wealthy soccer fans. And there is more “dignity” on the way. According to Julio Cesar Condaque, an activist opposing the levelling of the favelas, “between now and the 2014 World Cup, 1.5 million families will be removed from their homes across the whole of Brazil.”

The World Cup and the Olympic Games are on their way and the organizers (and those who stand to profit from the events) want those areas. They want to convert the parking lots for the poor into parking lots for sports fans—and nothing is going to get in their way.

Once again, Paul the psychic octopus got it right. And the economists got it wrong.

The eight-legged German oracle went 8 for 8 (and is now retired), while the 100 soccer fan economists polled by Reuters after the group stage picked Brazil and Argentina over Spain. The irony is, the 74 soccer fan economists polled by Reuters before the start of the finals actually predicted Spain would win the title—and then they changed their minds.

Still, given their record, perhaps we should limit economists to predictions of the outcome of football tournaments. They were certainly more successful with respect to World Cup 2010 than they were on the crises of capitalism prior to 2008.

It’s known as the beautiful game. But football isn’t always pretty.

Before we watch the final two matches—listening to the last vuvuzela at the 2010 World Cup and looking forward to the next Cup finals in Brazil—let’s consider Joseph “Sepp” Blatter’s reign as pimp of the media, godfather of the FIFA mafia, king of looking the other way when it comes to flaws on and off the pitch, and emperor of world football.

Here’s the link to a 2007 report from the BBC by investigative journalist Andrew Jennings.

According to economist Stefan Szymanski, FIFA is a strange organisation, an association registered under Swiss law with 208 members, whose purpose is “to improve the game of football constantly and promote it globally, particularly through youth and development programmes.” According to their 2009 annual accounts FIFA generated an income of $1059 million against expenses of $863 million. About two thirds of this is broadcasting income, and most of the remainder came from marketing rights — so jealously enforced by the brand owner in South Africa. Almost all of this income derives from the World Cup. Less than 10 percent this money is out to the football associations of the finalists. The key is, FIFA has a monopoly on the World Cup.

The Roman government monopolised just about every commodity they could, the Chinese maintained monopolies on rice and silk, and Queen Elizabeth I abused the opportunity to such a degree that she provoked parliament into passing a law against them.

Even more profitable is a monopoly where you don’t have to pay for the costs of production — like the old slave-labour monopolies in the New World, which made fortunes for the few who were in charge.

Now FIFA is not exactly the same kind of organisation, of course, but it is a spectacular monopoly and does not have to pay for the services of the players or for the stadium facilities they use.

The latest example of corruption within the football empire is that one of the principals of Match Services AG, the FIFA “hospitality-services” provider, is none other than Blatter’s nephew.

We can only hope that our beautiful game survives the the bribery, fraud, and cronyism characteristic of Blatter’s rule as emperor of  world football.

OK, I’ll admit it, Paul the psychic octopus correctly predicted the outcome of today’s semi-final match. And I was wrong, both yesterday (having picked Uruguay over Holland) and today (having picked Germany over Spain).

So, now I’ll just sit back and enjoy the final match. . .and pick Spain to win.

Successful football, that is.

According to former England winger John Barnes, in an interview with the Evening Standard,

Football is a socialist sport. Financially, some may receive more rewards than others but, from a footballing perspective, for 90 minutes, regardless of whether you are Lionel Messi or the substitute right-back for Argentina, you are all working to the same end.

The teams which embrace the socialist ideology rather than having superstars, are the teams that are successful. Or if there are superstars they don’t perceive themselves to be that. That’s why I use Messi as an example. As much as he’s a superstar he respects his team-mates and their collective efforts.

Barnes offers an explanation very different from the one offered by Harry Browne, who focuses on the financial incentives individual players have.*

It seems to me — and this is worth a thorough analysis historically and at the end of the tournament — that there is a reasonable, albeit imperfect, correlation between under-performing at this World Cup and already being securely in place on a big contract at a top club in a major European league, especially the big three leagues for player salaries, in Spain, England and Italy. Conversely, the teams that have exceeded expectations are those that are full of players who would presumably love to get a transfer to a top club in a major European league, and who are putting themselves in the shop window at the World Cup.

Simon Hattenstone builds on Barnes’s explanation by noting the characteristics of the best football teams:

They play for each other, and individual brilliance is often subservient to the common good. Even the language of team sport is socialist – solidarity, unite, goal, come together. Why do you think the word United is so beloved by football people that 15 clubs in England’s top four division divisions have it in their title? Barcelona, possibly the world’s most successful club, are the living embodiment of our old clause four (remember that?) – owned by the supporters for the supporters, they have indeed “secured by hand or brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof” as some of us used to say.

He then links football success and socialism with 2 of the greatest managers in English football history:

Football’s greatest managers always knew how much the sport owed to socialism. Brian Clough, who gave tickets for Derby’s games to striking miners and agitated for a player walkout (admittedly after he had walked out on Derby), was once asked by the former Labour MP, Austin Mitchell, whether he was a superstitious man? “No, Austin, I’m not,” he answered. “I’m a socialist.” Sure he drove a Mercedes, but he wanted everybody to be able to drive a Mercedes. A slice of bloody cake for all, that was his philosophy.

Bill Shankly, possibly the greatest and wisest of them all, believed football and socialism were inseparable. “The socialism I believe in is everybody working for the same goal and everybody having a share in the rewards. That’s how I see football, that’s how I see life,” he said.

We’ll see whose football socialism will win out in the coming days. I’m betting on Uruguay (today) and Germany (tomorrow), with Germany—”11 players on the pitch, 23 in the squad, working together for the common good”—winning the finals.

* On a side note, it’s about time we stop referring to financial or economic explanations as “material.” Culture and politics are just as material as the economy. A materialist explanation focuses on the messy, aleatory social (economic, political, and cultural) determinants of processes and events, as against an idealist explanation, which emphasizes ideal schemes and rational trajectories.

Tomorrow is the 3rd day of competition of the Poor People’s World Cup in Cape Town.

While the various stages of the finals of the FIFA World Cup were being held and watched around the world, the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign (AEC) has been running a tournament to highlight the province’s struggle against rampant poverty and homelessness. The Poor People’s World Cup features 36 teams representing over 40 different communities from the Cape Town area.

The competing teams have been named after most countries in the FIFA games but also include teams named Haiti, Somalia, Palestine and Zimbabwe.

Organizers note this tournament is not only for soccer teams and fans, but also for the whole community and for the people who struggle every day against water and electricity cut-offs and against evictions from their homes and working places.

It’s not right that poor South Africans continue to suffer, while the rich are enjoying themselves in the expensive stadiums at the expense of the poor, activists charge.

To paraphrase Gil Scott Heron, the Poor People’s World Cup will not be televised.

Hope Cemetery, Barre, Vermont