HUNTING WHITE ELEPHANTS / CAÇANDO ELEFANTES BRANCOS

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09 October 2013

Looking back, thinking forward

We have known since the turn of the century that Brazil would be the World Cup hosts in 2014. This is because FIFA, after the opaque process of selecting the 2006 World Cup hosts (awarded to Germany in 2000 after a last minute abstention by New Zealand´s voting member), decided to employ a continental rotation system: Asia, 2002, Europe, 2006, Africa, 2010, South America 2014, Oceania (read: Australia) 2018. The plan was abandoned in 2007, one day before Brazil was saddled with the 2014 tournament. 

Blatter apparently wanted to guarantee that he could bring the Cup to Africa. This was not a bad idea in and of itself, but it positioned FIFA in the role of an international development agency. That is, in order to justify the outrageously high costs to the hosts, a thousand little development projects had to be created to massage the impact of the transfer of wealth scheme. Back in 2000, the shadow of João Havelange was still creeping along the halls in Zurich, his ex-son in law Teixeira was on the executive committee and lord and master of Brazilian football. It might not have been explicit, but it was highly probable that Brazil, with its emerging consumer market and football history would be the choice for the 2014 World Cup as it rotated through South America. That was 13 years ago. We are still answering questions about Brazil´s “readiness” to host the 2014 Cup. It´s high time that football fans start questioning the urban and social impacts associated with hosting 64 football matches.

Not too early to start thinking about it.
In a recent interview with Gerardo Lissardy of the BBC regarding the joint candidature of Argentina and Uruguay for the 2030 World Cup, I argued that if those two countries were to host the Cup again, 2030 is an excellent time frame. 2030 would mark a century since the first Cup was held in Uruguay and Montevideo´s Estadio Centenario would be an amazing place for a final. Thinking about the Cup now, there is an adequate time frame to start planning stadiums, infrastructure and financing so that host cities could grow into and out of the event. That means that World Cup 2030 host cities should be chosen in 2015 and the World Cup should be incorporated into the long term urban plans of the cities. Of course, this has to happen with the widest possible network of urban stakeholders, with the common goal of minimizing impacts and costs and maximizing benefits. With an eye to sustainability, by 2030 most of the octogenarian old guard of South American football could help grow the grass of the stadia.

A forward thinking urban development model is clearly not what we have seen in the 21st century editions of the World Cup and European Championships (not to mention the Olympics). Korea / Japan 2002 scattered 20 stadiums across the hosts, most of which are unused. Portuguese politicians are looking for ways to destroy stadia built for Euro 2004. Germany was Germany in 2006, and appears to be even more German now. South Africa paid out billions, dislocated tens of thousands from their homes, excluded even more from formal participation in the economy, has rotting carcasses of white elephants strewn about and did not advance football in the country even a little. The Bafana Bafana failed to qualify for 2014. In 2012, Poland and Ukraine paid dearly for the Euro and will likely see their buildings collapse into a quicksand of debt servicing. Brazil, as readers of HWE know, is a 20 billion dollar comedy of errors. The promised urban improvements won’t be ready, the militarization of urban space is ever more profound, and once-loved (though decaying) stadiums have been turned into antiseptic nodes of casual entertainment, social exclusion and rapacious accumulation. There are indications that FIFA has recognized that their business model needs to change, that they are perceived as parasites on the hosts and that their “For the Game. For the World.” motto could be interpreted as a quest for global domination of the people´s game. 

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