HUNTING WHITE ELEPHANTS / CAÇANDO ELEFANTES BRANCOS

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28 December 2013

Trigger Finger

For those not following Brazilian football, you might want to keep it that way. Here is the inglorious tale from the end of the 2013 Brazilian championship. Portuguesa, a small team from São Paulo, used the substitute Heverton with thirteen minutes remaining in the last game of the year. Heverton had not completed a two game suspension but the CBF (Brazilian football confederation) had not made this explicit to Portuguesa. Earlier in the year, the CBF had signed a huge sponsorship deal with Unimed, one of Brazil´s biggest private health insurance providers.

The rules of the CBF state that the use of an ineligible player in a game will result in the loss of points won in that game in addition to another three point deduction. Portuguesa´s case (as well as that of Flamengo which had shown their usual alacrity in management and fielded an ineligible player), went before a special sports tribunal which operates outside of any other Brazilian legal framework. In the first vote, Portuguesa lost their bid to keep their four points, arguing that according to FIFA rules the point deduction could be taken next year, that the player in question wasn´t good enough to alter the outcome of the game, and that it was the last thirteen minutes of the last game of the year so the letter of the law shouldn´t apply. The rub here is that the loss of four points relegates Portuguesa to the second division and implies the loss of millions in television revenues. This is no joke for a small club. The second rub is that with the loss of four points, Fluminense will not be relegated and will stay in the first division. It was sad to see the Fluminense fans celebrating in their legal victory what they couldn´t get on the somewhat more level field of play.

The Portuguesa case was then taken to a second round of voting in an appeals tribunal that few had ever heard of. The CBF, as the organizing institution of the charade, was able to nominate multiple members of the tribunal.  In this second round, Portuguesa lost 15-0 (as did Flamengo). The unanimous ruling by a body internal to the organizers of the competition have determined that Fluminense, 2012 champions, will be saved from relegation by a parallel sporting justice system that has nothing to do with justice and everything about keeping the big fish in small ponds. The CBF pays the salaries of those on the tribunal. Fluminense is paid by Unimed as are their lawyers. Unimed pays the CBF. See any conflicts of interest?

In the country that is about to host the World Cup, football continues to be the operated by the Wizards of Leblon. The violence of the 1% of torcidas organizadas dominates public policy for everyone. The violence of the small minority of torcidas is matched by the violence (or absence, or incompetence) of the police, the indifference of the teams and the aloof, uncompromising arrogance of the CBF. As a whole, the best talents continue to be exported like so many pieces of hardwood to European, Middle Eastern and Asian collectors who send them back to Brazil at thrice the price and half the utility. Thus, the quality of football in Brazil is abominably low, the rules confusing, the fans treated like cattle with ATM cards, and the national team is run by a Qatari marketing firm. Yes, that´s right. The CBF doesn´t decide where its own national team will play but under Ricardo Texeira sold the rights to International Sports Events of Qatar until 2022 for the price of US$1 million per game. You might want to think twice about wearing a shirt with CBF on the breast.

The good news coming out of Brazilian football is that a few of the old pieces of wood that have washed up on Brazilian shores have formed a political movement to contest the Wizards at the CBF. Good Sense F.C. (Bom Senso F.C.) staged a number of protests during matches in which players have not moved after the initial whistle, or knocked the ball back and forth to each other in protest of the insane calendar that the CBF has put together for 2014. Brazil is the only country in the world that plays in every month of the year. Top flight teams in Brazil will frequently play more than 80 games a year, with no more than two to three weeks break between seasons. Not that you would know this from looking at the CBF website. The most recent information in English is from 2012.


Unfortunately there is not much to look forward to in the local scene this year. Vasco, relegated. Fluminense, relegated but somehow stayed up. Flamengo, one point off relegation but will be in the Libertadores because they won the Copa do Brasil. Botafogo, squeaked into the Libertadores and have the amazing Seedorf to keep us entertained at R$40 per hour.  The best games, by far, will be those of the Rio State Championship where we can look forward to seeing Bangu x Friburgense. If only the Rio State Football Federation had any practical information about the tournament they run, we could find out when and where the game is going to be played. Sigh. 

23 December 2013

Reloading for 2014

2013 will hopefully be remembered as a year of positive change in Brazilian history. As we have gone through a series of urban and social transformations for huge sporting events, the real fragilities of Brazil came into sharp focus. To host the World Cup and Olympics, special legislation weakened already tenuous institutions. Tens of billions of public funds have been directed to projects that were never discussed with the
public. These privatized projects are justified with the word legacy, but there is no guarantee. The spoken word means almost nothing in Brazil and the very structure of the World Cup and Olympic Games allows for the circus to move on while the locals are left to clean up the elephant droppings. Forever.

The protests of 2013 were partly a reaction to the opaque, exorbitant and authoritarian megas. They also responded to the deteriorating conditions of urban life in Brazilian cities. I see this every day when I walk out of my apartment: bubbling sewage, abandoned buildings, precarious infrastructure, military police sitting on the corner. The protests were not spontaneous expressions of rage, but a big blip of concentrated indignation that is always kept alive by Brazilian social movements such as the Comitês Popluares da Copa.

The violent police responses to peaceful protest exposed the contradictions and brutalities that underlie most facets of Brazilian life. The police do not do policing, they treat the population as a threat to order and have no capacity to work for the public good. They serve at the behest of a very thin slice of Brazilian society – those benefitting from the very projects and conditions that the protesters were on about. There may have been real material gains in Brazil over the past generation, but this does not indicate meaningful social, political, infrastructural or economic reform has been accomplished. Rio is a perfect example of this – a place where issues of inequality and violence are solved through a counter-insurgency pacification program. The knock-on effects of pacification were never thought through or adequately prepared for, exposing Rio´s most vulnerable citizens ever more to conditions of bare life.

2014, without question, will be the shortest year in modern Brazilian history. A late Carnaval, World Cup and Elections will ensure that none of the necessary, difficult work of building a more just society will occur. The events will limit social agency at the same time that the politicians will be handing out crumbs to gather votes. If Brazil wins the World Cup, we will lose even more of our lives to the false delirium of a hollow promise.  
Despite the constant difficulties of living in a city governed by decree and in a state that acts on the behest of the invisible hand, 2013 was a year that demonstrated that there is real potential for collective social action to have an effect. The work of building consensus to create a collective future based on an atomized and self-referential past is tiring, frustrating and slow. The events of 2013 demonstrated that this work, undertaken by millions on a daily basis, can spring to life to challenge those in power with legitimate, articulate and diverse messages. These messages were heard and seen around the world linking Brazilians with Turks, Egyptians, and Circassians in their struggle against authoritarianism. Hopefully 2014 will bring even more people to the streets to raise their fists and voices.


That´s it for another year of Hunting White Elephants. Thanks to the tens of thousands who have visited the site this year and be sure to follow my twitter @geostadia. I´ll be putting up links to journalistic and academic pieces in January and updating the media page. Feliz ano!

16 December 2013

After the rains, the shock

It didn´t take long for the new transportation projects in Rio´s port area to assume the habits of their elder siblings. With the intense rains of last week, the Via Binário filled with rainwater and sewage, completely blocking access to downtown. The city government admitted that their due diligence wasn´t happening but all
The Via Binário gests into the flow of Rio. OGlobo photo
the same slapped the private consortium that is handling the R$9 billion, 5 million square meter privatization of public space
 with a R$100,000 fine. One wonders what will happen when all of the traffic that used to flow above ground through the port goes below sea level and people are trapped inside their cars in a tunnel. 

The Via Binário shouldn´t feel badly for failing its first test. The Metrô flooded. The SuperVia train tracks flooded. The region around the Maracanã flooded completely. The Avenida Brasil flooded. There was no way in or out of the city center where 60% of the city´s jobs are concentrated. The advice of the mayor: “stay home”. Of course, he could have said this earlier in the day before millions made their way across waterworld to never get to their places of employment. Again, how much good does an IMB smart system do when it can only sit by idly and watch a dumb city fall to pieces? In their propaganda video, there is a line that suggests that the smart city center can now predict heavy rains and
Imenjá makes an appearance in Rio´s Zona Norte
move to prevent disasters. It is amazing that only five people died. Hundred were robbed on Rio´s highways as bandidos made the most of stopped traffic. IBM: “The result is a visionary city, equipped to react, predict and plan for current and future events”.

During these wildly unpredictable rains, the Observatório das Metrópeles held a national seminar that dealt with the effects of the World Cup on all twelve host cities. The results were depressing. In every case, the World Cup is stimulating interventions that use public funding and military agents to commodify urban space, increase prices, and reduce access to sport while guaranteeing a suite of “executive privileges” for the cloistered and aloof global elite. Those who were present at the World Cup draw on the Bahian coast witnessed the FIFA president shutting around with a 50 car motorcade. Brazilian officials use the phrase “differentiated treatment” without a hint of irony, as if it were a defining characteristic of a democratic society. For this and for other reasons, the National Articulation of the Popular Committees of the World Cup nominated FIFA as the worst corporation in the world. While there is stiff competition from Gasprom, the campaign is picking up steam.

Three workers have died building the World Cup stadium in Manaus, one fewer than the number of games that will be played there. I wonder how many minutes of silence Herr Blatter will have for them before each of the games? If the ten seconds he allowed for Nelson Mandela is any indication, we may have already been silent for long enough.

Assuming that the stadium is built without more human sacrifice, the four games in Manaus mean that eight teams will play there, 25% of the total field of 32. However, there was a 100% chance that the USA would end up in the Amazon. Given that the USA sends more fans than any other country to the WC, that there are direct flights to Manaus from Atlanta and Miami, and a penchant for eco-tourism...bring the sun-screen, forged notions of Fair Play and bug spray!

Staying with football, we have no idea what the Brazilian first and second divisions will look like for 2014, more than a week after the final games of the tournament. Three teams are relegated from Serie A: Vasco, Ponte Preta and Náutico. However, Portuguesa from São Paulo used a substitute who was in some kind of legal limbo with 16 minutes remaining in the second half of the last game of the year. They tied the game and kept their heads above the relegation line. The punishment for an illegal player is the points that were won in the game + 3. If Portuguesa were to be punished with a four point deduction, Fluminense would be saved from relegation. My money is on Fluminense to be saved from a terrible year in which they went from Brazilian champions to relegation. Flamengo is also facing the same situation as Portuguesa and could face relegation if the sporting tribunal in Rio rules against them. My bet is that the size of the angry crowds outside of the building will encourage jurisprudence to go with the masses. However, if the vote goes for Flamengo, it must surely go against Fluminense. I am changing my bet. I bet that nothing will ever be resolved in Brazilian football as long as the CBF continues along without a massive institutional overhaul. The rest is just a bunch of guys in shorts.


And to get the week off to a flying start, over the weekend the road in front of the Maracanã was closed so that work could get started on a pedestrian overpass that will connect the stadium to the Quinta da Boa Vista. Last night (Sunday), perhaps making use of the fact that no media could get near because of the closed roads, the Rio Military Police shock brigade moved against an occupation of buildings undertaken by members of the Aldeia Maracanã. The terrorism that the state has manifested against a peaceful occupation of indigenous space is a perfect encapsulation of the creative dialogue that has defined the hosting of the 2014 World Cup. 

09 December 2013

Fim do ano, fim do mundo

The end of another year of football in Brazil exposed the putrid state of every element of the game. This video explains some of it:


The Vasco x Atletico Paranaense match was held in the city of Joinville in Santa Catarina State because Altético´s stadium is under construction, and massively delayed, for the World Cup. Vasco needed to win in order to avoid relegation, but their team is so devoid of talent that staying in the first division another year would have been a sporting injustice. Why are Vasco so bad? Anyone out there remember Phillipe Coutinho, now starring in midfield for Liverpool? Ex-Vasco, he was sold to A.C. Milan on the day he turned 18. Vasco´s youth system has been condemned in the courts and the few times they do manage to produce talent, the boys are sold off to the highest bidder. This is same reason for which Fluminense was relegated. They decided to sell their two best players, Wellinton Nem and Thiago Neves, in mid season and brought no one in to replace them. The political-economy of Brazilian football continues to benefit agents and directors at the expense of clubs and fans.

However, the causes for the scenes above have much deeper roots than just the emptying of talent pools and managerial incompetence (read: Vanderlei Luxemburgo). The torcidas organizadas have long standing relationships with club directors. This is not new or surprising in Latin America. However, the fact that there had been violence between the torcidas of Vasco and Atletico PR and that the Military Police decided not to patrol inside the stadium, leaving it up to a private security force, on a day when the Torcida Jovem of Vasco was likely to be at its most aggressive because of the impending relegation…that is another kind of violence in and of itself. The inability of the state to anticipate pre-announced conflicts or of the responsible football authorities to ensure the safe realization of a game is exactly the kind of violence through absence that has as its inevitable counterpoint a boot in the face and a nail-tipped club in the head. Violence permeates Brazilian football at all levels so why are we so surprised when it breaks out in the stands?

Naturally, in Brazil, no one is going to assume responsibility for any of this. The clubs cannot be held responsible for their permissive relationships with the torcidas, the PM´s hands off attitude may be criticized but not investigated, the CBF is tone deaf, blind and unmoving. The only thing that will happen is that both Vasco and Atletico will receive punishments of short duration that will not significantly alter the status quo.

A number of important Brazilian footballers have started a movement to reform Brazilian football from the inside. Good Sense F.C. is calling for a reorganization of the football calendar and for a declaration of labor rights for football players. They issued a note regarding yesterday´s violence saying all culpable parties should be found out. This includes the CBF, the Military Police, the private security firm in charge of the internal policing, the emergency personnel, the board of directors of both clubs and the torcidas organizadas. 

05 December 2013

Smart is the new Stupid

Rio de Janeiro. If cars were bread, the city would be the world´s largest, moldiest, most immobile basket. But cars aren´t edible, and therefore we have the blingest, bestest, most smartest city in the world, full of a thousand hidden treasures and a million kilometers of traffic jams. We can all thank the brilliant privatization initiatives and urban operations and mega-events for the wholesale prostitution of urban space and commodification of our increasingly bare lives. We are being led into an impossible smart future by the rising star of hyperbolic, back room, smart guy glad-handing. In the past weeks, Rio de Janeiro has been selected as “the world´s smartest city” at the Smart City Expo World Congress and his royal munificence Eduardo Paes was elected president of the C40 group of the world´s largest cities. 

Congratulations, Mr. Mayor. It´s just that the city is more dysfunctional than ever, the urban future is being built upon car and bus transportation, the bay and the ocean are too polluted for human use, half of the city is controlled by militias, the other half by drug gangs and a brutal military apparatus,  the mayor wants to build a ski slope in the Madureira park and is more concerned with Woody Allen than with reforestation.

Truly, the marketing machine of the city and state governments are the smartest elements of RJ. I have not done a formal analysis, but Rio de Janeiro must be the only city in the C40 that does not have a map of its bus routes. It must be the only port city that does not use the water for mass transportation. It is the largest city in the Americas with one metro line, which does not a metro make. It may be the world´s largest city that has privatized all of its public transportation and continues to blast highways through dense neighborhood fabric without ever having demonstrated that those lines aattend present or future demand. The Olympic bid books have become the de-facto urban planning documents. Rule by decree, violations of human rights, rampant deficit spending, mega event after mega-event, bubbling sewage, increased congestion, violent police, voracious real-estate speculation undertaken by the state, attempts to close high performing public schools, the elimination of Olympic training facilities and tens of thousands of forced removals. This is the toned and bronzed face of the new smart city.

Now, as we welcome another gang of “global experts”  in the form of the Clinton Initiative (with Chelsea! and the president of Nike, Otavio Marques de Azevedo, presidente da Andrade Gutierrez; Candido Botelho Bracher, presidente e CEO do Itaú BBA; Alessandro Carlucci, CEO da Natura; Sylvia Coutinho, CEO do UBS Brasil; Andre Esteves, CEO do BTG Pactual; Angélica Fuentes, CEO do Grupo Omnilife/Angelíssima; Eduardo Hochschild, presidente-executivo da Hochschild Mining; Jorge Gerdau Johannpeter, presidente do conselho de administração da Gerdau; Kurt Koeningfest, CEO do BancoSol)  - as we receive this cavalcade of the lords of the planet, we will again hear how great Paes and Cabral are performing for this brutally limited audience.

On the positive side, the only really intelligent plan to come out of RJ in recent years has won an important international prize. The Plano Popular da Vila Autódromo (link to download), developed in conjunction with the residents of the Vila Autódromo (whose residents possess title to land and whose existence has been personally threatened by Mayor Paes for 20 years), has won the London School of Economics / Deutche Bank Urban Age Award. The recognition of a plan that emerged through the collaborative efforts of residents, universities and urban professionals is an important political statement on the part of the Urban Age. This will give political muscle to the Plan,  forcing the city and state to work with the V.A. to urbanize. It will also make it even more difficult for Rio 2016 to “clean” the Olympic site for its London-inspired urbanization project. More, the recognition that collaborative, grassroots, bottom up planning can have significant and positive effects on urban environments and social relations should be taken as proof positive that despite being smart, there is still hope for Rio de Janeiro.


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