HUNTING WHITE ELEPHANTS / CAÇANDO ELEFANTES BRANCOS

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31 January 2011

Vasco da Gama (1) x Flamengo (2), Campeonato Carioca 2011

With all of the writing about mega-events I rarely take the opportunity to write about football, which is more than a passing interest.

Contrary to produced and received wisdom, the biggest fixture of the Rio football calendar is not Flamengo x Fluminense (Fla x Flu) but rather Vasco da Gama x Flamengo. Known as the “Classico das milhões” (the derby of millions) Vasco x Fla happens four times a year and in the ‘classic  years’ of Rio’s football drew eight of the twenty largest crowds in Brazilian history

Vasco entered yesterday’s game having lost their first three games of the Campeonato Carioca. Flamengo had won all of theirs. Two teams going in opposite directions.  Vasco fired its coach who had been sabotaged by the two star players, Carlos Alberto and Felipe. This sabotage took the form of intentionally losing games, which is a pretty sinister thing. There is also speculation that the players are trying to end the presidency of Roberto Dinamite, who scored 700 goals for Vasco as a player. Are Dinamite’s political rivals paying players to lose games so that he is weakened come election time? Whatever is going on, Vasco is totally lost at sea and entered the day at the bottom of the table with no coach, no captain, no confidence, one goal and zero points from three games. Uma situação cumplicada.

Flamengo just signed Ronaldinho Gaúcho and appears to be rolling in cash. Even though they just escaped relegation in 2010 after winning the league in 2009, they looked comfortable in their first three games. In the lead up to the game the platitudes and clichés were flying, as usual – “Vasco sempre é um rival cumplicado” “Clássico é Classico, não dá para prever”, etc.

It’s high summer in Rio. Game time temperature at the stadium was 38°C, and probably much, much hotter on the field. Contrary to the ‘classic’ years, there were only 15,000 people in attendance. The reasons for the radical drop in attendance are too complicated to explain succinctly.  The broadcast team for PFC2 (owned of course by OGlobo) continually referred to the Fechadão by its original name, Estádio Olímpico João Havelange. That’s not the name anymore. It was changed to Stadium Rio last year in an empty appeal to internationalize this sad spaceship of a sporting venue.

The expectation was that Vasco were going to lose, badly. When David hit the first goal, there was no surprise, almost a relief that the anticipated had arrived. When Thiago Neves took advantage of a lovely through ball aided by some lazy defending and chipped over Fernando Prass just before half-time, it was basically over.
Contrary to expectations, Vasco did not lie down and die in the second half, but upped the intensity of the game once substitutions were made. One of the problems I have with following Brazilian football really closely is that the players are never around for long enough to become familiar with them. I would like to be able to report about how the insertion of Misael for Allan and Márcio Careca for Ramon changed things for Vasco, but I can only say that they did, and from the 20th minute of the second half on, Vasco were the better team.

One of the delightful things about watching games in Brazil is also one of the most frustrating. The commentators don’t tend to provide much depth to the game, but come up with some gems once in a while. They are also biased. For instance, instead of saying that Vasco had improved and were stringing passes together and looking good, the commentator (whose name I forget) said: Flamengo perdeu o meiocampo. Flamengo lost the midfield. Porra! Porque não poderia ter dito que Vasco melhorou? A small thing, but important.

The gems were the following:
Regarding one of Vasco's players: Ele é um jogador de pequissimos recursos. He is a player with limited resources. A damning condemnation of a professional footballer.

Regarding the lack of substitutions at half time: Flamengo não mexeu porque não precisa, Vasco porque não tem noção. Flamengo didn’t make any changes because they don’t have to, Vasco because they don’t have a clue.

After melhorando muito seu desempenho em campo, Vasco marcou e quase virou o jogo. A draw would have been lovely and just, but it did not come and Vasco have written a new page in their long history. They have never lost four games to start the Campeonato Carioca. This is the worst start ever. And while it is good and interesting to be living through a historical moment, it’s not exactly a happy time to be a Vascaino in a city where your major rivals have won all of their games.

There were numerous encouraging signs from Vasco in the second half yesterday. They’ve got some talent and were able to cut through Flamengo with some ease as the second half wore on. There are some major defensive lapses, particularly on the wings and there isn’t much hope that Carols Alberto and Felipe are going to rejoin the team after being “afastados” be Roberto Dinamite. Vasco has no coach and whoever decides to take up the task is going to be entering a caldron of political intrigue, a team without cohesion, and a relegation battle to fight. Then comes the Brasilieirão.

Flamengo has booked their place in the semi-final of the Taça Guanabara where they will meet the loser of Fluminense x Botafogo this weekend. 

26 January 2011

Salve Projeto Morrinho! Salve Vic Muniz!

The complexities and contradictions of Rio never cease to amaze me.


A small figure representing traficante lookout. The M signifies
the name of a real person.
Sunday afternoon an anthropologist friend invited me to the Vila Pereira da Silva in Laranjeiras, home to the the Morrinho project. This stunning project is a mind-boggling representation of Rio’s geographic, political, and social worlds. Begun by two brothers who had recently moved to the community, the Morrinho Project has taken on impressive dimensions covering several hundred square meters of a hillside in the Vila. The youth of the community play in the projects within a set of well-defined and enforced rules. They have been able to capture some external funding, have made movies, traveled, do tours, and generally constructed a world through a super-creative geographic representation of Rio. I’m including a few photos, but check out the website for some better ones and for a more complete story. 

Of course, the realities of living in places with parallel systems of government such as drug-traffickers or milícias are not all happy. The morrinho project has plenty of elements to remind visitors that it’s not just a game and that living in a favela is not as romantic as the wave of gringos arriving to buy up real-estate would like to think. The view of the city is spectacular and I don’t know that I’ve ever met friendlier, more welcoming people.

Taking the frequently brutal realities of Rio and turning them into something beautiful is also the project of Vic Muniz in Wasteland. This documentary catalogues Muniz’s photography project in the Jardim Gramacho, Latin America’s biggest landfill where thousands of catadores comb through the collected waste of 13 million people to pull out value. The depth of the project is amazing and demonstrates the ways in which an artistic project can fully transform lives. Muniz himself came from difficult circumstances and though he is now a world famous artist, his ridiculously creative and sensitive art made my head spin. The Jardim Gramacho provides a livelihood for thousands that no-one reading these words would willingly choose for themselves, but Muniz and the filmmakers are able to show the senses of pride and identity that the catadaores have with their work. The film is playing in various parts of the USA and in Rio at Arteplex in Botafogo. This is the film that the Brazilian Film Academy has nominated to represent Brazil at the Oscars ( a rediculous situation in which only one film not of USA or British authorship can be nominated per country. Talk about cultural imperalism! There was much speculation that the crappy Lula film would be nominated. Surely Tropa do Elite II deserves a shot along with Wasteland.)

Both of these projects are strong reminders of how many different worlds exist within Rio de Janeiro and Brazil. This makes it all the more important to talk in greater depth about the flood of investments and new forms of neo-liberal arrangements that are starting to take hold of the city. I have recently heard capitalist gringos lauding the privatization of the Zona Portuaria, saying “so what?” about the intentional creation of real-estate bubbles. The media and the government are walking hand in hand towards a world created in the “world class’ [sic] image of the international tourist class. The real necessities for many millions of people in Rio de Janeiro (and Brazil) are education, sanitation, health care, functional transportation, stronger democratic institutions, transparency, places of recreation, clean water, etc. The false necessities are billion dollar stadium projects, symbolic transportation systems (bullet train), and forcible removal of the poor from their homes in order to make way for upper class condos.

Salve Projeto Morrinho! Salve Vic Muniz!

24 January 2011

Isso é uma desgraça. IstoÉ vergonhosa.

On my way home the other night I picked up a special edition of IstoÈ, one of Brazil`s major news magazines. A few months ago I was interviewed by the very same magazine for what was a fairly balanced piece about the Maracanã reforms. I suppose I should not have had my hopes up for this “Special Copa 2014” edition whose title read: Golaço – How the biggest football tournament in the world is going to help Brazil grow.

I have long commentated about the ways in which OGlobo has zero critical perspective on the World Cup and the Olympics. But I was not expecting IstoÈ to take up the cause of FIFA and the CBF so fully, without uma pergunta séria nenhuma, publishing an entire magazine that had NO journalistic integrity, no examination of the incredibly complex issues surrounding the production of sportive constellations in 12 Brazilian cities, no economic analysis, nothing, nothing, nothing that shed any light at all on what is happening in preparation for the World Cup. Unfortunately, this represents the current state of public discourse in Brazil regarding the World Cup and Olympics.

The principal sections of the magazine referred to:
1)    1)  The “Legacy benefits”, the historical context of the 2014 World Cup in comparison to the 1950 World Cup. This lead with a picture of the Bird’s Nest in Beijing which has recently been turned into a shopping mall because there were no sporting tenants.
2)     2)  The amount of money that the CBF stands to gain from new sponsorship deals.
3)      3) An interview with Mario Zagallo, former coach and player for the seleção
4)      4) An interview with current seleção coach Mano Menezes
5)     5)  A ridiculously shallow profile of the twelve new stadiums suggesting that the “Maracanã is a model that should be followed”. Those familiar with this blog will understand why that is the stupidest, most ignorant headline imaginable
6)     6)  The problem of airports, the reforms underway and multiple guarantees from federal deputies and INFRAERO higher-ups that there will be no problems (even though last month more than 50% of domestic flights were delayed or cancelled).
7)     7)  Arquibancadas em paz. This was perhaps the most sickening of sections as it explained how fans will be surveiled and controlled via legal, technical, technological, social, and military mechanisms. The big joke here is that Flávio Martins, the vice president of the Federação das Toridas Organizadas do Rio de Janeiro is quoted as saying that he wants to have a place to park, a comfortable place to sit, etc. The sad story is that “the final objective is to valorize the fan, treating him like a client”. There is no need to read between the lines  - this is a radical change in Brazilian stadium culture, and the torcidas organizadas have been co-opted so that the spectacle of the arquibancada will be produced so that it can be consumed by wealthier, more comfortable clients. PQP. Oh, and there are plans underway to identify fans through fingerprinting as they enter the stadium:  “The new model proposes a pre-registration of torcidas organizdas and general fans with a collection of personal data and the emission of intelligent [sic] ID cards. The registration will be connected to INFOSEG [National System of Public Security Information]”.
8)     8) To back up the above controls, there is a section detailing the militarization of public space that we can expect, and come to love, for the World Cup and Olypmics. Once installed, why dismantle? Biometric cards for everyone will help control who can come in and out of the new centers of privatized urban governance like the Zona Portuaria. Your card will indicate place of employment and residence, which in Rio says plenty about who you “are” and where you “belong”.
9)     9)  Did you know that all financial expansion and economic development [sic] in Brasil over the next four years can be directly attributed to the World Cup? If you read this section, you will understand that without a mega-event the state would simply cease to function, having no money for the provision of health and sanitation. But wait, “the consolidation of the country in terms of tourism is causing the big hotel developers to dream big.” Meaning, of course, that there might be a hospital or road built somewhere, but the real money is going to be made by those who already have it.
10  10) A sad little section lamenting a loss against Argentina, com golaço de Messi, but lauding the progress of the Seleção under Menezes.
11  11) A little piece justifying the pontos corridos system instead of a playoff system, which many Brazilians prefer. This re-enforcing the position of the CBF. There is no alternative point of view given, even though the continuing success of the state tournaments owes much to the mata-mata playoff system.
1    12)   This unbelievable section features the best picture ever seen of Ricardo Teixeira, the most corrupt person in Brazil. It also lauds the way that Teixeira has “modernized” [sic] the CBF from the “age of paper to five times champion”. Como se fala PROPAGANDA? This is not journalism, it’s a bloody disgrace.
     13)    An exposé on the way that Ney Franco is training the Brazilian junior teams.
1   14)   Interviews with FIFA higher-ups describing the global media coverage of the World Cup and the need for investments in 3D transmission technology in Brazil. There is also an interview with the director of journalism engineering from, you guessed it, OGlobo! What a refreshing change! And to justify all of this, there is an enumeration of the FIFA exigencies for stadiums covering the media booth, radio and tv cabins, tv studios, media center, interview halls, mixed zone, flash interview positions, and parking. FIFA says, Brazil does.
15 15)   Transportation. R$40 billion in investment. This is arguably the most important, most impactful, and certainly the largest investment, yet IstoÈ dedicates the least amount of space to it. As we are seeing in Rio de Janeiro, the installation of transportation lines does not necessarily benefit the city. These need to be investigated on a case by case basis and not just be given some glib treatment that spews out numbers and interviews the people directing the projects.

In short, there is nothing informative in this magazine. It is false journalism and only thinly disguised propaganda for the government, the CBF, and FIFA. This magazine has done a great disservice to the Brazilian public. There are no authorial credits given in the entirety of the magazine, which gets whoever wrote this tripe off the hook for their false prophesies. The photos have no names assigned to them. The information comes from sources that are positioned to make fortunes from public and private investment. There are no alternative realities possible here; only the inexorable march towards a FIFA future that will be cradled within the warmish bosom of a consumer society (and speaking of bosoms, check out this week's cover). The inevitable corruption will be tolerated as long as Brazil wins the World Cup, manages not to screw up the transportation and has enough four and five star hotels for the FIFA boys to get their groove on (read: sexual tourism). It’s sickening and sad and pathetic, especially for a publication that claims to be "the most combative magazine in the country."  

20 January 2011

Closing out 2010

Catching up on a few things left hanging around my desk from last year…

Way back in 2010, the London Organizing Committee announced a 25% cut in the security budget, with assurances that security would not be compromised. This should be a clear indictment of the huge and unnecessary spending for the Olympic Games. If the security won’t be compromised by spending less, then why were they going to spend so much in the first place?

Jumping to 2022, it was uncommented here, but the Führer Sepp Blatter suggested that gays avoid having sex if they were so bold as to visit Qatar for the 2022 World Cup. This is old news by now, and the little corrupt tyrant has since apologized, sort of. Qatar is a country of 1.9 million people. Homosexuality is illegal. The World Cup is a joke. Why bother getting upset about it anymore?

One can’t help but get upset after reading books like The Fix: soccer and organized crime by Declan Hill. It’s common knowledge by now (or should be) that FIFA is a global mafia that throws bones here and there to ‘developing’ countries to put some developmentalist spin on their otherwise nefarious dealings. But in The Fix, Declan Hill dives into the underworld of the people that are paying to have World Cup games rigged. His exposé, of course, had no real effect on the way that soccer is run, principally because it makes so much damn money for those who are fixing it, in all senses of the word. Some of you out there probably remember South Korea’s unlikely run to the semi-finals of the 2002 World Cup, sweeping aside Spain and Italy. Well, there was widespread conjecture that those two games were fixed and if you give a look at the replays, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that the referees in both matches were doing very strange things. One of the referees, an Ecuadorian, was arrested in 2010 as he was entering the USA as he had bags of heroin strapped to the insides of his legs. If that’s not a corruptible (and idiotic) person I don’t know what is. After reading Hill’s book, I became even more convinced that the Brazil x Holland quarter-final match in the 2010 World Cup was sold by the Brazilians. Hill says of one of his major informants and global game fixer that, “when he arranged fixes he would often get the team to play well in the first half and then have a bad second half’ (249). There is no doubt in my mind that the Brazil team that played so brilliantly in the first half and so shoddily in the second, with an uncharacteristic howler by super-goalie Julio César, a summary but far from accidental sending off of Felipe Melo, and a shoddy marking job on a 5 foot 7 attacker in the six yard box when Brazil had defended set pieces very well all tournament…anyway. Would anyone really be that surprised if this were true? Can we still afford to be so naive as to believe that the game, even at the highest level, is clean? Why bother getting upset?

A report on 14.10.10 in the OGlobo sports section outlined the money that the Brazilian Olympic Committee distributes to the various sporting federations. The Brazilian snow sports federation receives R$ 800,000 a year. The Brazilian ice sports federation also receives R$ 800,000 a year. I guess if the Jamaicans can have their bobsled team, the Brazilians can pay for people to live abroad and go skiing. It does beg the question as to why, when the majority of Brazilian public schools have no playgrounds, the national government directs more than a million and half Reales every year to winter sports. A few more interesting numbers – 

Horse jumping: 2,900,000            Table tennis: 2,300,000       Canoeing: 2,300,000                                   Tenis: 1,800,000                          Archery: 1,300,000             Sailing and motor sports: 3,000,000
Modern Pentathlon: 1,300,000     Golf: 500,000                      Rugby: 500,000 
(rugby and golf will be Olympic sports in 2016)

All this money comes from resources from the Piva Law, which directs 2% of all of federal lottery earnings towards sport.

The headline from 15.10.2010: IN 2022 BRAZILIANS WILL BE AS OBESE AS AMERICANS. It seems to me that this is the developmental goal of the PT. Or it will be an inevitable consequence of fashioning Brazil in the image of the big brother to the north. The same edition of OGlobo had more pages dedicated to car sales in the classified section than it did in the newsy bit. In the days following the invasion of the Complexo de Alemão, there was a perceptible increase in the full page ads for closed condominium complexes and gated communities. Now if the Brazilians would only liberate those pesky gun control laws, start using and doing more of the things that white people like (Brazilian version), construct an unnecessarily large army to defend the "homeland" from imaginary threats, invade Angola, treat foreign workers more like criminals, and go into a financial tailspin while slashing public services in homage to the great porcelain throne of neo-liberal autocracy - then they’ll start to get it about right.

19 January 2011

The March of the White Elephants

And I’m back...


The headline of Page 4 of the OGlobo sports section on 18.1.2011 was “Paisagem em Transformação” (Landscape in Transformation). The subheading – ‘On the margens of the BR-408, in São Lourenço da Mata, 19 km from Recife, the task is to hurry up with the construction for the Arena Pernambucano so that it will be ready before the Confederations Cup in 2013’. The picture that accompanied this descriptive and ominous heading was of a dumptruck on top of a large pile of rubble fore-grounded by a flagged stick that marked the eventual midfield dot. The article was a mixture of optimistic projections and grim realities, though the latter have to be read between the lines.

Estádio José do Rego Maciel Stadium (Arruda) in Recife
Santa Cruz
Some background. Recife already has three stadiums, one each for the city’s principal teams - Sport, Náutico, and Santa Cruz (see photos). None of these were considered for renovation or modification for the Copa. The current project is being developed on a Greenfield site in the suburbs, has an initial budget of R$ 532 million (US$ 302 million), a capacity for 46,000 spectators and parking for 6,000 cars. The Arena Pernambucana is going to cover a massive area (218 hectares – a donation from the state) and will include the building of nine thousand apartments. The entire project is being directed by Odebrecht which is operating under a public-private-partnership. It is unclear how much money Odebrecht had to put up front, but the Pernambuco State Secretary for the World Cup told OGlobo that the apartments should generate R$33 milllion for ‘private investors’.  Odebrecht has contracted the USA-based entertainment giant AEG Facilities and ISG (International Stadia Group) to run the show for the next thirty years. OGlobo happily reports that AEG is responsible for bringing Paul McCartney, the Black Eyed Peas, and Bon Jovi to Brazil! Wow! The president of the State Copa Secretariat was also quick to point out that Ajax ArenA hosted a royal wedding and that the Arena Pernumbucano could, what, host Lula’s traveling circus act? Fala sério meu irmão.
Estádio Eládio de Barros Carvalho (Aflitos) in Recife
Nautico

Estádio Ademar da Costa Carvalho (Ilha do Retiro) Stadium in Recife
Sport
The plan, therefore, is to have all three of Recife’s teams play their games in the new Arena. None of these teams are currently in the first Brazilian division. Of course, if the teams decide to play in the stadiums they already have, the plan to have an “economically sustainable” [sic] stadium will be shot. In which case, the state government will be obliged to pay Odebrecht around R$ 5 million a year. Public risk, private profit. The president of the Odebrecht Consórico said that the local teams “shouldn’t bother with the management of their stadiums whose maintenance costs are not compatible with their financial situations.” What?

Because these teams can no longer afford the maintenance costs of their stadiums (which is likely not true), they should abandon them? Náutico averaged 15,954 and Sport 15,667 fans in 2009 while in the 1st division, Santa Cruz averaged 38,249 while in the 4th division. These are far from pathetic numbers, did anyone ask the teams if they had trouble maintaining their stadia? The president of the state football federation said, “The problem is that fans here have the culture of watching their teams play at home. It’s not easy to move this idea in their heads.” No kidding. It’s also difficult to imagine an arena that is 19km from the city center being a site of convergence for the tens of thousands of people that will have to consume there on a weekly basis to make the project anything but a drain on public coffers.

Arena Pernambucana.
The raw beauty of contextualized urbanism. 
It appears that the plan for Recife is for the public to invest massively in a stadium project, hand it over to a private firm, and if the stadium turns out not to be economically viable the state will have to subsidize the loss while the private entity makes out like bandits on the real-estate development project. In addition to this and perhaps more insidious is the R$3 billion, yes billion, that will be invested in transportation infrastructure. As we saw in Johannesburg and are witnessing in Rio, these transportation projects do not necessarily attend to the real needs of the city. Hopefully there will be some more information forthcoming about the nature of these transportation projects. The degree of improvisation that is happening in most sectors of “planning” for the world cup was revealed in the final paragraphs of the article. The State Secretary for the Cup Ricardo Leitão said that a potential shortage of hotel rooms was not really a concern because many tourists were probably going to sleep aboard their trans-Atlantic ocean liners during the Cup and that the secretary of tourism was going to start registering residents who want to put people up in their homes. Actually, this last idea is very good, but probably not the first or most readily available option for nervous international tourists coming to Brazil for the first time.  

The march of the white elephants continues.









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