HUNTING WHITE ELEPHANTS / CAÇANDO ELEFANTES BRANCOS

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Intro to the blog



This blog investigates the massive changes in Rio de Janeiro and Brazil from a perspective based in critical geography and urban planning mixed with investigative journalism. That my comments here are almost wholly critical of the projects underway in Brazil is based on more than a decade of research into the ways that sports shape and impact urban and social relations. 

There is a global tendency to de-politicize sports. No one likes to think of  leisure activity as yet another field of political action. However, everyone surely understands that the marriage of sports and nationalism in international competitions cannot be effectively separated from ideas of citizenship, notions of belonging, human rights and the machinations of a global political-economy. The complications inherent to sport are multiplied and accelerated with the World Cup and Olympics, especially as they stimulate and accelerate myriad processes already present in the places / spaces in which they occur. 

Mega-events crystallize the articulations between the local and the national and the global wherever they occur, opening opportunities for the questioning of and resistance to the worrisome trends of social polarization and the implementation of ever more severe tactics of neo-liberal governance regimes.

That the World Cup and the Olympics operate in secrecy is no secret. We have yet to be presented with the governance structure of the 2014 World Cup. We have no budget for the 2016 Olympics. We don’t know how decisions are being made, just that there is little or no democratic input into a ‘system’ that takes billions of public R$ and uses that money to restructure cities and social relations. This is especially true in relation to the use of public space, the installation of new security mechanisms, mobility, housing, labor and the re-articulation of the right to the city. The Olympics are run by a non-governmental agency with authority to direct the billions into projects that are defined by "games needs" and not the city itself. That is to say, the city needs to be restructured to suit the Games, and not the other way around. I think there is something fundamentally wrong with this and am attempting to show how and where and when and why this is happening.

The burden of proof of benefit for public works related to the World Cup and Olympics should fall on the government, on the CBF, the COB, FIFA and the IOC - not on civil society. What is happening in Brazil is that the master plans of cities have been altered to attend to the short term demands of Swiss-based NGOs, with the promise that the outpouring of tens of billions in public funds will generate short, medium, and long term benefits. Of course, the opening of public coffers for massive public project will inevitably generate jobs and secondary benefits for a limited range of social actors. However, the justifications (be they technocratic, economic, or geo-political/symbolic) for those projects and the ways in which they (ostensibly) fit into medium and long-term city planning mechanisms that will generate more just and livable cities are not in evidence at all. Herein lies part of the problem: mega-events, almost without exception, are predicated upon short term return on public investment for private industry – economic projections that indicate massive growth for small businesses are conducted by firms contracted to demonstrate just that. 

There is a farcical absence of independent economic analysis that justifies multi-billion dollar investments before these investments are made. The studies and reports that are coming out now about the World Cup and Olympics in Brazil are mechanism for justifying what is already underway. The inexorable, relentless carrying off of these projects at whatever cost, needs to be justified somehow. Much like the marketing of various wars in the USA, the continual selling of mega-investment in Brazil is an exercise in public relations based in voodoo economics.

My comments are occasionally hyperbolic but always based in archival and field research. My interpretation of media reports and press releases is hopefully providing a different perspective into the euphoric vision of mega-events that dominates popular discourse. My ire and incredulity are not couched in anti-sport or anti-event rhetoric but rather come from my belief that the World Cup and Olympics are being used as opportunities to maximize capital accumulation and not to materially improve the lives of citizens or the livability of Brazilian cities. 

The current model is simply not capable of bettering cities, making them more livable, more just. Rather, the autocratic imposition of these events requires a restructuring of “democratic norms” in order to facilitate the transfer of public wealth to private hands. These are lost opportunities to implement projects that would bring lasting benefits.

Sports mega-events need a massive re-think, a dose of humility, and should attend to the demands of the places in which they are held. As it is, they are ever-larger, require ever-more public funds, and re-shape spaces and places to meet the exigencies of international sport federations and their corporate partners while stimulating real-estate speculation and re-enforcing false notions of “progress” and “social development”. 



3 comments:

Jacob Bergman said...

I am a law student at SMU's Dedman School of Law and I am writing an article on this very idea. Specifically, the government's exertion of power over property. I want to compare the evictions in Beijing to that which is going on in the favela's in Brazil. My email is jacob.bergman.empire@gmail.com. I welcome your thoughts and possible help researching this issue. I can't find any court order or judicial opinion that grants the police the authority to evict citizens from the favelas. Thank you for your work.
-Jacob

Jacob Bergman said...

Any help is greatly appreciated.

Ran Klarin said...

Sport has always been political. what is significant now is the overwhelming prominence of profit. It parallels the concentration of wealth in general. Sport is another avenue for collecting more money from the proletariat. Is that necessarily bad? No, there is much joy and satisfaction in viewing and discussing sport. Almost (but not always) sporting contests are displays of skill and prowess. For me the key question is why now? What is different about the Brazil World Cup or Olympics? The World Series, any big name boxing match, NBA championships, and so on demonstrate the elements. It is not an exercise in didactic analysis, but a SPORTING contest. Please refer to my former professor, the architect of sport and politics--the venerable Harry Edwards, professor emeritus UC Berkeley. Thanks for opening this obvious and ignored issue.

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