HUNTING WHITE ELEPHANTS / CAÇANDO ELEFANTES BRANCOS

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25 April 2012

Stop Crying, Vasco doesn't need you...


The central issues that I am processing in relation to this Vasco fiasco are reflected in the comments that were left on the site. The first says – “Stop crying. You aren’t and never were a real Vascaino. Vasco doesn’t need “Vascainos” like you”. The second – “You say you’re no longer Vasco as if an American had the legitimacy to say that, how ridiculous. A real Vascaino is born Vasco, you don’t become Vasco because you discovered Brazil.” The third – “in Brazil you can change your wife, your job, your state, etc. everything but the club. To love a club is to defend it to the death. I think you still have time to reconsider your position.” (Is this a threat?) The fourth, by a Botafogüense – “Really nice logic, the only people who can be Vasco were born in Brazil and who will die (and perhaps kill) for Vasco. With fans at this level it is better that you abandon this team.”

The lies and abuse that Vasco has spread around are made possible by the kinds of comments above. Love of the team, by this sick logic, allows the directors to do whatever they want, collect trophies and money at the cost of young lives. The culture of “undying love” that people are “born with” and that “others” “outsiders” “Americanos” [sic] have no legitimate claim to, no matter how profound and “real” their sentiments, places the team above reproach, allowing for the possibility of slaves to be used in the pursuit of three points or another star on the jersey. Questioning the team is to question one’s self, something that the Vascainos who commented above are not willing or able to do.

My position remains the same. This should be an international scandal especially in a country that is preparing to host the World Cup. The directors of Vasco should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. There should be a general investigation into Brazilian football training structures as we know that Vasco is not the only team that profits from unpaid labor in sub-human conditions. The CBF and FIFA will not take a position on this, unless pressured to do so.

The law of the land is one thing in Brazil, football is another. Until the two are brought together and these “true” Vascainos start to examine how much human blood they are willing to sacrifice for their club, the violence will continue.

22 April 2012

Tchau Vasco


I became Vasco when researching Temples of the Earthbound Gods. In the 1910s and 1920s, Vasco fought the elite clubs of Rio so that the working class, illiterate and sub-altern could play football and receive something for their labors. The all-white clubs of Botafogo, Flamengo, America and Fluminense did not have to pay their players because they were daddy’s boys exercising their right to exercise vigorously. They had sponsors but instead of wearing the names of companies on their shirts, they carried their wealth in their names and residential addresses. The smaller teams from the suburbs paid their players a bicho, an animal, sometimes a leg of a cow, or a chicken, or some eggs – something to pay them back for the energy and time expended on the field of play. This was unacceptable to the nascent Rio football federation which disguised its racism and classism behind statutes of amateurism.

When Vasco won the second division in 1922, the big four of the time decided that they wouldn’t play against the blacks, mulattos, Portuguese and poor whites from São Cristóvão, forming a separate league that lasted for TEN YEARS. This apartheid system was only resolved with full professionalization in 1933, six years after Vasco had built a monument to its project of social inclusion, the São Januário. Vasco’s role in opening football to all social classes, the beauty and symbolic power of the stadium and a wealth of other non-rational reasons made me Vasco. That’s over.

I have long argued that if there is going to be any meaningful change to and in the world of football, we have to start understanding the acts of fandom as political. Putting on a team jersey is never neutral but rather an incorporation of one’s self into a larger community, a larger historical trajectory, a complex of actors and agents that are invariably connected to political economies and urban spaces that make one sleepy imagining their extent and intricacy. Nonetheless, they exist.  I would never, ever pull on a shirt that had the letters CBF (the Brazilian football confederation) on it because of all of the reasons I have explained ad nauseam in these pages. If there are to be political consequences that result from our individual actions, football is a fine place to start thinking more deeply.
São Januário loses his head. It appears not much has changed.

The report that Vasco has maintained a secret training ground where its young, poor, semi-literate players are kept in conditions of slavery, with the full knowledge and consent of the board of directors, after a year of negotiation with public prosecutors after a 14-year old boy from Minas Gerais died because there was no medical staff on site…it makes me sick. 

Vasco has turned away from everything that it stood for while at the same time using the words “inclusion” and “democracy” to promote their brand on a uniform. In short, Vasco is selling its history as a hollow commodity while at the same time exploiting the very people this history pretends to connect with. I repeat: Vasco was trying to hide their “slave-like” training camp for more than a year after one of their youth players died from the conditions at a different site. The board of directors smiles and struts around repeating the old mantras while marching to the drum of maximum exploitation.

We know that Vasco is not the only Brazilian team that engages in these kinds of practices. Brazilian teams make 28% of their profits from the sale of players, most of them never play a full professional season in their native land. The global political economy of football begins with the pipe-dream of becoming Dani Alves or Ronaldinho Gaucho, passes hopefully through concentration camps where swarms of piranha-like agents and coaches break and bend Brazilian adolescents to be fit for export while neglecting human rights and individual dignity. When those unpaid, ill-treated adolescents do actually break, or don’t bend enough, they are discarded on the scrapheap where tens of thousands just like them squirm and cry, their young lives already wrecked by the impossibility of their own dream that may not have even been theirs to begin with. 

We prop up these dreams every time we pull on that shirt.

I am saddened, horrified and angered.

I am not this Vasco.

I reject this club.
.



20 April 2012

Shame on Vasco


From the Associated Press
RIO DE JANEIRO - Vasco da Gama has been ordered by a juvenile justice judge to immediately suspend activities at its youth training facilities because an investigation found teenage footballers were living in "slave-like" conditions.
Judge Ivone Ferreira Caetana issued the ruling on Wednesday in response to charges by state prosecutors who have been looking into conditions at the club's main youth facilities in Sao Januario since 2009.
It was only in February, after a 14-year-old boy died while trying out in Itaguai, a more remote training centre, that investigators even learned of the existence of that facility, which housed dozens of boys aged from 13 to 17.
Since then, they've learned there were no doctors available on site when the boy, Wendel Venancio da Silva, died.
In an investigation since then, prosecutors found the boys were lodged in deplorable conditions and not fed enough as they were pushed through a grueling routine that left them with little time for school, said main prosecutor Clisanger Ferreira Goncalves in a statement.
In addition to denouncing the teenagers' poor housing and nutrition and their strenuous schedule, prosecutors also charged the club with transporting the teenagers in an unsafe vehicle, failing to provide them with medical care, and exposing them to unsanitary facilities.
"The decision was made to safeguard the most fundamental rights of dozens of the teenagers, aged 13 through 17, who are being violently disrespected by the club," the judge said. "The conditions these children are exposed to are slave-like."
Calls and an email requesting comment from Vasco got no response.
As of Thursday, Vasco had five days to start improving the situation. If the judge's orders are not followed within 30 days, the club faces a fine of $16,000 a day.
In the meantime, the club is prohibited from using the facilities at Itaguai for training or housing young players.
The judge ruled that youths should eat with the professional players, and be trained at Sao Januario, where the facilities were better but needed to be fixed in five days. The problems at Sao Januario include dorm rooms without ventilation, old and torn mattresses, and water rationing.
About 20 teenagers are from other states and have difficulty seeing their families because the club won't pay for their transportation. This also must be changed, the court said.
Prosecutor Goncalves has been involved with the investigation of Sao Januario for three years. She spent the last year negotiating terms of improvement with the club in meetings often attended by the president, Roberto Dinamite.
She thought the club had agreed to improve conditions when 14-year-old Silva died at the Itaguai site, which had never been disclosed to prosecutors.
"The conditions at the Sao Januario training centre were not ideal, but we made suggestions and thought they were being followed," she said in a statement. "But they were lying, and using the Itaguai site. What we found there is an affront to the basic rights of children and teenagers."
Exploitation of young players with dreams of making it big was a common phenomenon in Brazil, but one that's never been addressed by FIFA or by the clubs that benefit from the sales of these young players, said Christopher Gaffney, a Brazil-based academic who has written about local football.
"The economy of football depends on unpaid adolescent labour," Gaffney said. "This is a global phenomenon that the Brazilian clubs exploit to their advantage."
Other big clubs in Rio are also under scrutiny, prosecutors said.
Flamengo was facing an investigation after a 14-year-old hurt himself within their facilities. Botafogo and Fluminense are faced administrative inquiries into the conditions of their youth training centres.
In five days, a team of social workers, psychologists and law enforcement officials will visit Vasco's training grounds to check on progress.

04 April 2012

Sei la, mil coisas

As usual, a million things happening and no time to cover them all.

First, as predicted the non-transparent fat cats at the CBF and CONMEBOL danced around some chairs and put Ricardo Texeira’s allies in positions of power. The following week, FIFA welcomed the president of the São Paulo football federation as the new CONMEBOL representative and the Brazilian football clubs gave a vote of confidence to the 78 year old Jose Marin as head of the CBF. Football directors in Brazil are born without spinal cords. 

The same week there was a predictable and avoidable conflict between Corinthians and Palmeiras fans in São Paulo. Before the season began all the torcidas organizadas of São Paulo sat down with the Military Police to indicate parts of the city that were most likely to see fighting or conflict. The idea was that policing would be re-enforced in those areas. However, because it behooves the police to have violence in order to guarantee overtime, the fans were pushed into those very same areas and conflict ensued, duh. So not only are the police frequently the most violent actors, they also stimulate and encourage violence. Then the media jumps all over the fans for being violent. Watching the videos from the stadium it's clear that the police are the agitators. 

Brazil suffers from an irony deficiency.

At the same time in Rio, a bunch of septuagenarian, crusty old bastards who apparently liked the firm hand of the military crushing dissent, homosexuality, and freedom of expression  gathered at the Club Militar in the center of Rio de Janeiro to, get this, celebrate the anniversary of the 1964 military coup!!!!! The Military Police were, of course and as is their wont, spraying pepper at protester and passer-by while heavily-pensioned, slack-jawed torturers were able to celebrate their former actions with total impunity! This in a country whose president was arrested and tortured by military dictatorship! Imagine Obama saying nothing about a major rally to celebrate the anniversary of the founding of the Confederacy and all that socio-political-economic system implied. I wonder what João Havelange thought about all of this. Probably oatmeal.

The spate of recent articles trickling down from the north about how wonderful all of this investment is going to be for Rio are based on visions of the world that have nothing to do with the realities on the ground or an understanding of the paucity of planning and respect for human rights in Rio de Janeiro. This continues to be a very violent culture that is at the same time hyper-passive politically. The more one looks into the World Cup and the Olympics from the perspective of urban functionality, opportunity costs, and efficient use of scarce resources the more one cannot believe that people who should know better, don’t.

But wait, perhaps it is not in the interests of politicians and their friends in the civil construction and real-estate businesses to know better. Corruption is rampant, politicians are tied to multi-billion dollar interests and democratic institutions are weak. Half of Rio de Janerio isn’t even under the control of the state! Where the state has gone in to try to establish a new order, such as in Rocinha, they can’t control the explosion of violence that results. In two months there have been nine recorded murders in Rocinha, including the head of one of the resident’s associations an yesterday a member of the Military Police. This is in addition to the uncounted knifing deaths whose vicitms have been thrown in the forest. To make matters even more whatever the PM commanders have decided that all, all new PM recruits will do their training in Rocinha! Come on, using a neighborhood of 100,000 people as a training ground for new recruits while that neighborhood is in the middle of a massive socio-political-economic restructuring and is clearly going through a wave of gang-style murders? Fala sério.

The discussion about Rio’s Olympic Era in the New York Times was excellent as a way of highlighting the differences in perspective. Theresa Williamson set up her ducks and knocked them nicely down while the risk management specialist blew holes in his own argument (see my comments on the site and please contribute). There is no justification for these events, it’s all gone wrong by design, the most we can hope for is damage mitigation while the rich get fantastically richer, the middle class gets pushed out of the city  and those who rent anywhere are squeezed by micro and macro-economic forces that roam the land like angry Greek gods. Maybe as the days get shorter I start to lose my optimism, but barring any evidence to the contrary...




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