HUNTING WHITE ELEPHANTS / CAÇANDO ELEFANTES BRANCOS

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28 April 2013

Photos from the Novo Maracana

Protest dancing, shoes optional
The protests outside of the stadium were not seen by many members of the media because they had been bused in government vans from the Sambodromo directly into the stadium and were told that they would not be permitted to enter and leave. This "worse than China treatment" (as one journalist put it), compounded a hugely confusing and overly-long credential process. Some jornalists spent more than six hours getting their credentials because the third party that had been contracted for the service had experienced a power outage of some kind and had not been able to print up the badges prior to the arrival of the media. 


Flying the flag with the question of the day.






The protest was organized by the Maraca é Nosso movement, a group affilitated with the Comite Popular da Copa e das Olimpiadas. The hundred-odd protesters included indigenous folk from the Aldeia Maracana settlement, parents, professors and students from the Escola Municipal Arthur Friendenrich, athletes and trainers form the two Olympic training facilities slated for destruction, members of the Comite Popular and the Frente Nacional dos Torcedores. Femen made an appearance and you can see the gratuitous photos of naked breasts on the globo site. 

The stands as television screen. Sit back and relax. 
 Inside the stadium, the show was on. This kind of display was meant to test the stadium`s lighting and sound capacity. The sound system was predictably bad, but the lighting reminded me of big concernt venues in North America, or going to an NBA game. The switching of lights and focus is a hallmark of multi-use arenas and this new arena will no doubt excell in the production of concerts and spectacle. Once they figure out the sound system, this will no doubt be one of Brazil`s most blinged-out concert venues.


A Praia do Maraca
Many of the drinking fountains were not working and the food service was not up and running so the Consorcio Rio 2014, in charge of the construction, handed out coke and water to the workers that comprised the majority of the audience (although selling of tickets for R$50 was the norm around the stadium for days leading up to the game). The Consorcio also gave away what could, in desperation, be called food: pringles and soggy sandwiches. The lack of trashcans was a problem. The lack of running water ensured that everythign had to be served out of plastic bottles and put into plastic cups. There was no clear recycling program and as a result, the inside of the stadium ended up looking like Ipanema after a sun-soaked Sunday (minus the floating arms). 

Having been to many stadiums and having seen the poor quality of construction relative to the seat installation that followed the deforms undertaken for the 2007 Pan, I was disappointed to see yet again that we find it very difficult to install seats properly in Brazilian stadia. The seats were either installed crookedly, had hugely varying distances beteen them or had confusing arms rests. In this photo we can see a bulge in the concrete that has twisted the yellow seat leftward. The seat has no arm rest, but the ones on either side do, in the blue row in front, some seats have one arm rest and others two, some none. It`s a small point perhaps, but the general impression is that the seats were all installed hastily and without much attention to detail. The same happened the last time around, as I noted in this post

No to privatization and an end to demolitions!
The protest made its way into the stadium and was fortunately not repressed by security forces, although I did hear one Consorcio 2014 worker shout over his walkie-talkie "we`ve got to get those people out of there". The banner is a call to maintain the stadium in public hands and to end demolitions and forced removals in Rio de Janeiro. The lack of action on the part of the security forces was a good sign for Brazilian democracy as is the fact that people are willing to risk getting beaten up to politicize an event that has been de-natured by most of the Brazilian media. 


Right hand only? 
Volte Sempre!
That the World Cup is the culmination of a process that is turning fans into clients was evidenced by the hundreds of green-clad Consorcio 2014 greeters that encircled the stadium before and after the game. On the way from the Metro I was greeted by a glad-handing troop of young Cariocas that were happy to point the way to the stadium. There is only one direction to the stadium so it was impossible to go wrong, but their presence indicated that the New Maraca will be dedicated to customer service. On the way out of the stadium, these same people lined the exits, cheering for the fans. The phrase of the night that really struck me was "Volte sempre" - come back always. This is the same phrase that we hear in the supermarket, the shopping mall, or in Wal Mart. This is perhaps the saddest twist to the entire saga. The Maracana is being promoted as an entertainment option, not as a historically important site of social and cultural reproduction. The presence of the hundreds of Consorcio Greeters consolidated the corporate nature of the event. That this has come at a cost of one point something billion R$ is disgusting, that it has come at the expense of democracy is quite something else. 

As I had gone into the stadium before the end of the protest, I missed these joyful moments that occurred sometime after the game started. So much for my short-lived optimism, but at least I was correct about needing to have running shoes and a gas mask. 



26 April 2013

Hunting White Parrots



In an article entitled “White Elephant Hunting” published in the New York Times Goal Blog today, we are presented with a number of fallacies that justify the massive public outlay on stadiums that will be used for the World Cup. The author identifies White Elephants in Manaus, Brasilia, Natal and Cuiabá, citing the Federal Deputy Romario`s criticisms of the stadia but then quickly saying that Romario gets it wrong because:


1. He doesn`t understand Brazilian history. The northeast has traditionally been the poorest region of Brazil and merits the investment in World Cup associated infrastructure projects (citing Fortaleza`s metro extension). 
2. Even though some of these investments were planned before the World Cup, the event is giving a push to completion. 
3. Brazil is huge, so it makes sense to include cities like Manaus and Cuiabá (which is erroneously identified as having a larger population than Atlanta) in order to balance the distribution of the tournament`s investments.


The challenge, the article goes on, is how to make the stadiums useful after the tournament. The felicitous solution? Privatize the stadiums and have monster truck shows, religious gatherings, football matches, and international artists. Shakira will be making a tour of Brazil every six months is she is to play to crowds in all of these White Elephants. Basically, the idea is to force the public to pay for stadiums they cannot afford and at the expense of other public investment,  privatize them, and then charge them top R$ to go to events at high-tech multi-use arenas every week.


The example of the Fonte Nova is a classic piece of data omission. The author tells us that Freddy Adu`s (a recently transferred US player) Bahia is one of the best supported teams in Brazil, and this is true, but their average attendance last year was 18,981. The capacity of the Novo Fonte Nova is 50,000 and will need “at least 33 well-attended football games a year to make it economically viable”. What is the definition of a well-attended football match? How will the average attendances of 2,000 in Cuiabá help to pay for the debt servicing on the stadium? The author thinks that stadiums could be filled by reducing ticket prices, yet as I have demonstrated here repeatedly, the tendency in all of Brazilian football is the increase of tickets to games and even the government is worried about a gentrification process, so how or why does the author think that clubs will look for ways to reduce ticket prices? I agree that prices should be reduced but the political economy of Brazilian football is headed in the opposite direction.


These kind of omissions are a familiar type of journalism associated with these events that only want to tell the “happy story” of global sport, ignoring the economic and social realities in order to circle back in the line at the kool-aid punch bowl. The following quote from the article is typical of such reporting and does nothing to advance the debate, nor to discuss honestly the real problems associated with the preparations and hosting of the event: “Nevertheless, amid talk of delays and spiraling costs, the 2014 World Cup will at least be an event for all Brazil. In a country where the north-south cultural and economic divide is so deeply engrained, that at least is something to celebrate” It is not merely talk of spiraling costs, but a massive public outlay that will have real consequences once the fans and reporters have moved on to the next host. How is hosting an event in 12 cities something for all Brazil? What about Belém? Why Curitiba? What does all Brazil mean socially when tickets for the World Cup have started to be sold at over $500?


The article`s closing argument has some kind of vague emotional appeal that FIFA must love as their product is the passion for the game and not the economic or social realities of their event: “Back when I was a young man, I never dreamed I’d see the World Cup here,” said Brasilino Almeida, an elderly Salvador construction worker who helped build both the original Fonte Nova stadium in 1950, and, 60 years later, its modern replacement. It is a sentiment that will be echoed in Cuiabá, Manaus and beyond.” Let’s say this person did work on the original stadium construction in 1950. Assuming 13 as the minimum age to lift a hammer on a northeastern worksite in 1950, this man now at least 76 years old – and he is still working on a construction site! [ed: to clarify, I never doubted the existence of this man, but find it absurd that at both ends of his life, no labor laws are being respected. Why is he still anywhere near a construction site at 76? Trotting out a old man to marvel at the wonders that hundreds of millions of mis-managed dollars can produce hardly qualifies as a strong argument for what is happening with the World Cup]. 


In sum, the article suggests that the Brazilian World Cup is rumored to be expensive, there may be some massive White Elephants roaming the land, we can see them and have them in our sights, but let`s not kill them because they will make us feel good for the 360 minutes of football (in Manaus, Cuiaba and Natal) that we won`t be able to afford to see in person. All Brazilian cities merit federal investment in infrastructure but we know that the projects associated with the World Cup were poorly planned, hastily executed (if at all) and may not serve the long-term needs of the cities or the country. There is no redress (as the author suggests) of historically-situated cultural or economic divides in World Cup investment, especially when we take into consideration the astronomical sums being invested in Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Olympics.


The author is keen to ignore the very criticisms that he identifies at the beginning of the article in order to sell the World Cup to an international audience. This article does not attempt to kill White Elephants, but to make them into bichos de estimação (pets).



24 April 2013

Riding on that Monster Bus!


Nearly every day in Rio there is a fatal accident involving public transportation. In response to the brutal gang rape of a USAmerican woman a few weeks ago the city government stopped all van service in the Zona Sul of Rio, massively impacting mobility options for residents of Vidigal and Rocinha, two of Rio`s largest favelas (not to mention the impact on those who make their living with the vans). One of the results of this short-sighted, band-aid solution is to overcrowd the dangerous bus system even more. Bus drivers wield their carriages like twenty-ton baseball bats, there is little to no regulation and even when drivers are fined for their egregious violations of law and common decency, the bus company will pay the fine to FETRANSPOR, a regulatory agency that acts on behalf of the bus companies. There is no projected reform of Rio`s transportation system underway, the federal government continues to subsidize car production and consumption in pursuit of the Brazilian Way of Life, and those whose lives fundamentally depend on public transportation will soon experience yet another increase to the already outrageously high fares.

Rio`s Mayor announced the increase in a meeting with Brazil`s finance minister. In the same breath he asked that Rio`s debt ceiling be raised from 40% of liquid receipts to 120%. Can anyone guess why Paes is asking to both increase transportation fares (that go to private companies) and asking to borrow more public money at the same time that huge areas of the city are being privatized, occupied by the military, and otherwise cleared for real-estate development? If anyone has been looking for the ghost of Margaret Thatcher, I think she had a cup of tea in the Malvinas and then hot footed it to Rio.

One of the more bizarre stories of recent weeks was the discovery of two arms floating off of Posto 9 in Ipanema. The arms were tied together with cords and the only thing the papers had to say about the case is that officials were going to figure out who they belong to. I have not been able to find anything more about this story but will try to give it some fresh legs.

Speaking of, one of the great initiatives in Rio is the development of the Transcarioca trail. This will (supposedly) unite between 160 and 220km of trails through Rio`s national, state and municipal parks. As with everything else, the idea is to have the trail ready before the World Cup. Let`s hope this project gets on the ground!

This weekend, the Novo Maracanã will open its doors to a limited public for a test game between the Friends of Bebeto and the Friends of Ronaldo, two members of the 2014 Local Organizing Committee. The privatization scheme has been big news here and there are numerous protests planned for the event. Tear gas mask, check. Eye drops, check. Running shoes, check.

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