A spectre on the World Cup

4 June 2014 by Sushovan Dhar

CC - Wikimedia

For a country plagued by a prolonged social and economic crisis, what is a better chance to lift its image than an international sporting event? Indeed, the FIFA World Cup offers the crisis-plagued Brazilian government an opportunity to showcase itself to billions around the world. For a country of 200 million, proud of the Seleção men - the national football team - dominating the world with its samba style of play and winning the world cup five times, nothing could be more joyous than hosting the World Cup on its own soil. Indeed, nothing could be more thrilling than to see its favourite boys in gold and green winning the much coveted FIFA World Cup at Rio’s iconic and extortionately refurbished Maracanã stadium on July 13.

The problem is that not all Brazilians, especially the poor and the youth, are happy in the ways things are turning around. The country has been rocked by incessant protests in the last one year, with crowds chanting “Não vai ter Copa!” (No World Cup) at every gathering. A few days ago, denouncing property speculations, hundreds of families demonstrated near the São Paulo stadium, staged to host the World Cup opener next month. The Arena Corinthians, venue of the inaugural match between the home team and Croatia, saw protesters blasting miserable housing conditions and growing home costs.

250,000 people are estimated to have been evicted from their homes in Brazil due to the World Cup and the Olympics construction works. It is often difficult to find the exact number of people evicted since the administration of the 12 host cities often denies or does not bother to have information about the evictions. If resistance is shown, the authorities resort to political and psychological pressure tactics, withdraw civic amenities, and finally remove people with brutal force. Such were the scale of violent evictions that the UN was forced to question this in its Universal Periodic Review.

It’s a shame that the most popular sporting event of this planet needs an army on the streets
bigger debate that is making rounds is about who decides what ought to be done about the World Cup – the Brazilian people, their government, or supranational entities like the FIFA? People complain that to be eligible for the World Cup the Brazilian government decided to give up the sovereignty of its country, which in theory would be guaranteed in Article 1 of the constitution. It did this by offering, over time, a series of guarantees Guarantees Acts that provide a creditor with security in complement to the debtor’s commitment. A distinction is made between real guarantees (lien, pledge, mortgage, prior charge) and personal guarantees (surety, aval, letter of intent, independent guarantee). to FIFA in which it undertakes to comply with all requirements imposed by FIFA.

Last September, plagued with growing criticism about its move to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, its supremo Sepp Blatter was forced to admit that FIFA’s decision was driven more by political and economic interests rather than footballing ones. The Law gives FIFA the exclusive right to establish Fan Fest, an area within the radius of 2km of the stadiums where only official sponsors would sell products. While regular shops would not be prevented from opening doors, the hawkers and other street-vendors would be totally banned. A single city like São Paolo has almost 1.5 million street vendors.

FIFA has forced the Brazilian state to create new “criminal” stereotypes as the provisions of the Lei Geral da Copa Law could penalise anyone who uses symbols relating to the event improperly, ie for commercial purposes. This means that words like “World Cup,” “FIFA,” “Brazil,” and “Canarinho” (another name for the Brazilian national squad) are in their exclusive domain and can only be used by their partner companies for exclusive commercial profiteering.

The law grants FIFA and their partner companies total exemption from all taxes, whether in a municipal, state, or federal level. The Brazilian exchequer would lose an estimated $450m because of this tax relief. No wonder, the World Cup in Brazil must be the most lucrative in the history of FIFA, which in theory is not driven by theory but by sporting passion. This mega event would enrich their coffers with $10bn.

To be eligible for the World Cup, the governments and clubs were forced to build and renovate stadiums adhering to “FIFA quality standards.” These standards cheer us with news that stadiums would turn into “arenas,” giant screens to show the moves of the game and plush upholstered chairs for ultimate spectator comfort. There are attempts to create “consumer-spectators” instead of the traditional football fans, going to the arenas to watch a match, like going to a shopping mall with multiplexes. This will certainly cheer up real estate mafias and speculative capital while bringing tears to millions of Brazilians, and the poorest segments of society who are excluded and unable to watch games on the field, in a country where football is a way of life.

Finally, the most worrying concern has been the Brazilian state’s use of repression to persecute and discredit all those who criticise the cup. This can be used against social movements and demonstrators who resort to any sort of active protest. The federal government has spent nearly $50m in weapons, including grenades of all types, electric shock weapons, and rubber bullets. Special shock troops with 10,000 men were also created to act nationally in the host cities. In São Paulo, the Policia Militar (Military police), created by the military junta, and infamous for its role during the period of dictatorship, warned that it would acquire trucks that fire water cannons to contain protesters.

The government has vowed to suppress persons, movements, or organisations that cause road blockades, or cause or instigate “radical” and “violent” actions. These “opposing forces” would be strictly dealt with by armed forces who would be on the streets during the World Cup, as they were for the Confederations Cup. It’s a shame that the most popular sporting event of this planet needs an army on the streets to make it happen. Unfortunately, the spectre of state-terror looms large over a popular tournament known to evoke euphoria around the world.

Sushovan Dhar is an activist. He is based in Kolkata.

Other articles in English by Sushovan Dhar (61)

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