Cupa Mondială, între fotbal și politică

Un articol de Jonathan Wilson în care se îmbină perspectiva despre fotbal cu cea despre politică la Cupa Mondială ce va începe pe 12 iunie în Brazilia.

Last time the World Cup was held in Brazil, in 1950, it was designed as the propaganda centre-piece of Getúlio Vargas’s Estado Novo, the concrete sweep of the Maracanã, a modernist wonder that would be reflected in Oscar Niemeyer’s designs for the new capital, Brasília. Football, though, can be delightfully unpredictable and rather than consecrating the new Brazilian state, the World Cup offered a national disaster – “our Hiroshima”, as the playwright Nelson Rodrigues tastelessly put it – as Brazil, needing only a draw in the final game to seal the title, were beaten by Uruguay.

When the Brazilian government under president Lula authorised the bid to host the 2014 World Cup, a right it won unopposed after Colombia withdrew, it is safe to assume it similarly envisaged the tournament as confirmation of Brazil’s place in the world, as a means of showing that the country is more than just the hedonistic home of carnival, capoeira and Caipirinha but is also a thriving modern economy. Already that is looking a forlorn dream.

Every major global sporting event is beset in its buildup by stories of delays and panic over whether infrastructure will be finished on time. In 1950, it is said that the 21-gun salute during the opening ceremony sent drips of damp concrete falling from the stands at the Maracanã. None, though, has been quite so far behind as Brazil. Fifty days before the Arena de São Paulo was due to host the opening game, it was still little more than a shell.

No one is even talking about the proposed improvements to airports and the roads any more. What they are talking about is the logistics of travel in such a huge country. Fifa requires a minimum of eight stadiums for a World Cup, with a recommendation for 10. Brazil opted for 12, increasing the complication and cost of travel. The reason was to show off as much of the country as possible, but the allocation of venues has been made on overtly political grounds. Four of the host cities are in the Nordeste, the heartland of Lula’s political support. Cuiabá, the capital of Mato Grosso, a city without a professional football team, was surprisingly selected – or perhaps not that surprisingly, given the state governor, Blairo Maggi, is a major donor to Lula’s Partido dos Trabalhadores.

And they are also talking about the potential for a repetition of the protests that marked the Confederations Cup, demonstrations sparked by a proposed rise in the bus fares in São Paulo that soon swelled to become a mass popular movement against corruption. The image of Brazil that is projected could be a million miles from the sleek modern one the organisers envisaged.

For the experience of the tournament, that may not be a bad thing – particularly not if the protests succeed in exposing the most egregious examples of cronyism. Going to a World Cup has become about immersion in the Fifa bubble, a sanitised world of official partners and lowest-common denominator globalisation, something to which the Maracanã has already fallen victim: in his new book Futebol Nation, David Goldblatt calls the redesign of the Maracanã “an act of architectural vandalism and cultural desecration”.

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