HUNTING WHITE ELEPHANTS / CAÇANDO ELEFANTES BRANCOS

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23 October 2013

Forests and Trees

Favela da Paz, São Paulo. 500 meters from WC stadium
Another week of protests, teachers still on strike, violent police actions, sewage bubbling on residential streets, ill-conceived plans to rework the traffic flows in the city center, international consultants jetting in to pat each other on the back for their clear vision and well-manicured lives, disappearances and summary executions by “pacification” police, diminishing football crowds and record profits, real-estate speculation, institutional blinkardness, macro-economic troubles, frustrated expectations and a constant battle to make the simple things work. Despite the rot these trees of discontent still make for a lovely forest – if you can afford it.

Corinthians/Itaquera WC stadium. R$820 million
The longer I live in Brazil the more clear it becomes that the country is being shaped to guarantee basic human rights to those that can afford to purchase them. In Rio, the access to mobility, education, health care, leisure, sanitation, water and air is conditioned by one´s position in the forest of capitalismo selvagem. Personally, I can´t complain as I have a good job, a foreign passport, a nice apartment and can afford to buy private health care and live in a part of the city that is replete with cultural and environmental amenities. I will not be removed from my house for Olympic transportation lines and do not have my world dominated by milicias, traficantes or the military police. The vast majority of the 13 million residents of Rio do not live like this.


The arrival of the World Cup and Olympics in Rio de Janeiro (and Brazil) are accelerating and consolidating a number of disturbing trajectories. The protests are an attempt to end the processes of privatization, urban fragmentation, spatial isolation, militarization, elitização, forgetting and obfuscation. There are innumerable examples of all of these processes that cannot be attributed to one particular actor. One of the horrible
The fundamental question for the future of the World Cup. Favela da Paz, S.P.
beauties of these events is that they bring together temporary governance regimes and non-state actors that create vacuums of responsibility. FIFA can´t interfere in what the government does, the government has to agree to FIFA demands. The IOC has “certain needs” that the city is obliged to meet, yet the IOC can´t demand that the projects meet social needs. The mega-event coalition uses the state apparatus (within which mayors and governors are sub-altern agents of capital) to divert finances to the creative destruction of a host city. The mega-event industrial complex may be nothing more than a colossal shell game run by Fuleco, whose goal is to accumulate and consolidate power.

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. 

04 October 2013

The Bursting Brazilian Bubble

Brazil, Brazil, Brazil! We´ve been hearing it for years, again. Brazil is the Latin American development model. Brazil is the new home for “sustainable” capitalism to plant a billion genetically modified seeds to generate green economies of scale. Brazil is the emerging soft super power. Brazil is the safe port in a global shite storm of locked up consumer markets. Brazil´s ethanol, Brazil´s oil, Brazil’s water, soybeans, timber, coffee, cacao, açai. The World Cup in Brazil! Brazil´s educated workforce? Brazil´s creative entrepreneurialism? Brazil´s progressive political reforms? Brazil´s infrastructure?

The Rio de Janeiro teachers have been on strike for two months, making demands for better pay, a viable career plan and an end to the market-oriented dogma of merit-based pay. The embarrassment of Rio´s public education system is not reflected in the dedication of its teachers, but in the lack of decent infrastructure, a poorly functioning state apparatus (with lifetime sinecures for untrained, politically appointed administrators), and an executive that would rather pay Woody Allen “whatever he wants” to make a movie in Rio than to pay teachers a living wage. The result is as predictable as it is pathetic: tear gas, pepper spray, truncheons and rubber bullets to clear Rio´s Cinelândia. Pop, pop, pop.



For those keeping score at home, Eike Batista has lost $34.5 billion and is being ridiculed in the national and international media. So sorry Eike. Perhaps you would like to return the Maracanã to the public from which you stole it? Pop. There is a great deal of speculation about whether or not Eike´s Olympian hubris and chicanery can be understood as a metaphor for the most recent Brazilian economic miracle. The Economist isn’t particularly optimistic and the continuing protests around the country are a good indication that the population isn’t satisfied. There clearly needs to be some political reform but the main opposition candidate for next year´s presidential elections, Marina Silva, was barred from registering her political party through a series of dirty tricks that were likely orchestrated by the ruling Workers´ Party. Pop.

The World Cup has faded somewhat from public consciousness but it is a nagging, persistent and troubling stew of discontent. After the Confederations´ Cup, ticket prices for Brazilian league matches, already the most expensive in the world, have gone even higher. While some attendance figures have jumped, others are pretty low indeed. 8,136 people paid to see Santos x Fluminense at the Maracanã. (Remember Santos, Libertadores Champions in 2011?). Pop. The Botafogo x Fluminense clássico in Rio the other night only had 19,562 fans – and this was with prices reduced to R$40. The average price for tickets in the Minerão in Belo Horizonte is R$50 and in Brasilia´s Mané Garrincha R$66.

The top down imposition of a sport business model where fans are transformed into clients, players into pets and stadia into shopping malls was predicated in part on the promise of Brazil´s ever expanding consumer economy. This time next year, FIFA will be in Russia, the hundreds of government agencies created to deliver the 2014 Cup dissolved and the resounding silence of “legacy” will rattle through the intestines of white elephants.

The persistent chant of the teachers in Rio has been this: “Da Copa, da Copa, da Copa eu abro mão, quero meu dinheiro para saúde e educação!” (I give up the Cup, I want my money for health care and education). FIFA, of course, doesn’t like to hear this and may be too busy trying to tunnel out of the Qatari hole they have dug for themselves to notice what is going on in Rio.

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