HUNTING WHITE ELEPHANTS / CAÇANDO ELEFANTES BRANCOS

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17 March 2014

Rio Twenty Something

Brazil is desperate for some good news that doesn´t come from its entertainment pages. The economy has been sacked by Dilma and the PT, the “pacification” program in Rio is proving that it does not, in fact, make sense to replace one arbitrary, militarized system of justice with another, the World Cup organizers are entering into full-scale damage control and the Olympic projects are so far behind schedule before they even get started that Rio 2016 might change its name to Rio Twenty Something.

The depressing state of affairs in the run in to the World Cup is making everyone quite anxious for the Cup to actually get going. It will be a huge relief to be able to talk about football for a month, though of course there will be protests and violence and human rights violations, arbitrary arrests, massive confusion at the airports, teams getting lost on the way to their hotels and the trumpeting cacophony of the world´s largest herd of white elephants.

We discovered this week that airplanes will not be adding to this noise. As a “security measure” all airports within a 7 km radius of WC elephants will be closed for up to seven hours before and during matches. Why 7 km? Surely it is not for security reasons as a plane could zip into a stadium as easily from 10 km as it could from 7 and there are not yet plans to have anti-aircraft missiles on rooftops. No, the reason for the cancellation of more than 800 flights is to prevent airplane noise from interfering with game transmission. At least there won´t be long waits to get baggage.

The Lord Mayor Eduardo II of São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro decreed public holidays on all WC game days, cancelled all permits for cultural events between May 22 and July 18, and suspended all public works projects for the same period. That means that there will be no work done on any Olympic related projects, no improvements to city infrastructure, no hammering of any kind for two months. While it will be quieter, what will all of the workers do? Will they be receiving their salaries for staying at home with their kids? The banishment of residents from their own city is what is going to make the World Cup possible – just another form of accumulation by dispossession.

Has everyone fully swallowed the bitter pill of the Sochi Games? Watching the closing ceremonies of the Paralympic Games last night, I could envision the map of Russia that served as the podium growing to
Putin´s message to the West
incorporate Crimea and eastern Ukraine. Sochi 2014 has served as a delightful soft power cover for Putin to pursue his hard power geo-politics. All the while the IOC sits on its pudgy golden ringed fingers, extolling the hackneyed virtuosity of the European aristocracy as a viable model for conflict resolution within the context of a brazenly cynical political economy of global sport.


The latest to add his name to the increasingly long roll of kleptomaniac shysters in Brazilian sport is Ary Graça, ex-president of the Brazilian Volleyball Conferderation and ex-president of the International Volleyball Association. Graça was caught out by ESPN Brasil reporter Lucio de Castro to the tune of R$10,000,000. Graça then renounced his two presidencies but will not likely face any kind of legal action (of course). The person Graça had received his position from, 2016 President Carlos Nuzman, said he was “surprised” just before he took a position on the ethics board of the International Association of Athletics Federations. Asked what more he was surprised about that day, Nuzman revealed his pleasure at seeing the sun rise in the East. 

14 March 2014

Sitting and spinning

The spin masters are out again, trying to say that everything is fine, or that even if things could have gone better, er, if everything had gone better then everything will still be fine. In short, the business model of the World Cup is to assure that the World Cup continues to be a viable business model. To that end, everything half-true and maybe true is taken as absolute truth and the oddities that hang off the press releases like toilet paper on a dignitary´s shoe are simply ignored until the money is counted in Switzerland.
Here are some recent gems from the World Cup organizers and their business insider fakirs:


Valcke: “What FIFA injects in the country is $800m and the cost of the World Cup to FIFA itself is $1.3bn because on top of that sum we have prize money for the teams and additional costs. But FIFA is not asking for any financial support from the Brazilian authorities and whatever is spent by the cities and by the government will remain within the country.”



Aldo Rebelo: “What exists is a campaign against the World Cup by desperate sectors in the media but it won’t be enough. We participated in 19 cups, won five, we’ve given and continue to give great soccer stars to the world. What more do you want from Brazil?” 


Anonymous : And What about Brasil? True: some stadia are still not ready. True: the monorail in Sao Paolo looks more like a piece of abstract art in some places where two tracks fail to meet in mid-air. True: some of the airports promise to offer a serious challenge to the masses of arriving and departing passengers. Also true: there is social unrest in many parts of the country. It is altogether likely that some things will not work the way they should but it is equally likely that most things will. Despite a President who doesn't care about football, and despite the fact that some critics continue to speak of endemic corruption…But will any and all of this really have a devastating impact on the world's favourite game?



Valcke neglects to acknowledge that the tournament and profits are wholly dependent upon Brazilians investing public resources into infrastructures that will make the Cup possible. FIFA and all of its corporate milkmaids have total immunity from taxation in Brazil. That is, we are sinking our limited capital into fixed infrastructures so that money, people, goods and images can flow through them and out into larger circuits of accumulation. What will be left behind are big, fat, greedy elephants that demand ever more resources to maintain. Where will these resources come from once FIFA has changed cachaça for vodka? The very people that were duped into paying for them in the first place by their own aloof elite. If FIFA asks for no financial support from Brazil, why did we need the General Law of the World Cup to exempt them from any financial onus?

Aldo Rebelo once sponsored an investigation into the nefarious relationship between the CBF and Nike. Now, he is parading around in Nike and CBF gear. What the minister fails to recognize is that the media itself  is desperate to promote the World Cup. The investigations into corruption, incompetence, lack of planning, conflicts of interests among members of the LOC like Ronaldo, militarization of public space, violence against protesters and the emergence of a permanent regime of exception are not the work of some radical fringe within the media, but rather a minority of dedicated journalists trying to get to the bottom of the pit. Fortunately for the Minister and unfortunately for Brazilian society, there is no bottom.

The last quote comes from a publication dedicated to the vapid promotion of football business around the world to stuff the pockets of the European football lords. Tellingly, it has no attribution but reflects the perspective of those who never have to live with the consequences of their business practices. Global football is in a pathetic state. Brazilian football is even worse. All four divisions of the national competition are tied up in judicial processes and there is a zombie driving a five star bulldozer through a field of chaffed credibility. The article is basically saying that despite all of the bad news, we should just pay attention to the action on the field and forget about larger issues such as transparency in governance, the horrible things that a World Cup does to places with massive inequalities and insufficient urban infrastructures. People said horrible things about South Africa 2010 and everything as great! Surely the same will be the case in Brazil. This is a delusional perspective that has no role in honest debate, I´m sorry I even brought it up.

If swooshes were arrows, I´d be a genius
The justifications for the World Cup spending and the heavy-handed, authoritarian, violent and non-transparent mechanisms for carrying it off are that the World Cup itself is popular. “Look how many tickets have been sold!!!” “Brazilians love football!!” “We are bringing new hope to a young generation of fans!”  Of course the World Cup is popular in Brazil (though not as much as before) and people really, really want to go to games. I do too. For most in Brazil, this would have been a once in a lifetime opportunity (for those with credit cards, computers at home, and enough money to flop down). Had the Maracanã not been deformed, FIFA could have easily sold 130,000 tickets at $1000 each. If the Maracanã had a capacity of 500,000 they could have sold it out.  However, the limited tickets for Brazilians have excluded even that possibility. So of course Brazilians are not happy to have been forced to build unnecessarily expensive stadiums that they won´t be able to get into unless they are both lucky and wealthy. The so-called legacy projects are not being completed and there is no guarantee that after the World Cup there will be money or political interest to finish them. The vacuums of responsibility ensure that everyone can point the finger somewhere else.

The defensive and offensive reactions to the criticisms are as disingenuous as they are hollow. Valcke tells a half-truth as if we were to believe that FIFA is not benefitting directly from a Brazilian subsidy on their operations. Rebelo wants us to believe that because Brazilians are good at football that should be enough to cover up the fact that they´re terrible at completing large scale infrastructure projects on time and on budget. The international business community wants us to ignore the realities of Brazil so that the world´s favorite game can go on its merry way. 

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