Wednesday, June 18, 2014

But Triumph Can Prove How Exceptional We Are

Travis Waldron of Think Progress "spent Monday night in a bar so crowded and hot that I couldn’t move, much less order a beer, with a sweaty United States #8 jersey plastered to my skin. " He wants you to know that you, too, have to go out and buy an American flag (probably made in mainland China)

Because when you watch those celebrations, or when you sit in a hot, crowded bar full of American fans (and, in our case, Ghana fans too, which only made the atmosphere more incredible), and you feel it belch with anxiety in some moments and explode with euphoria in others, you realize how easy it is to just enjoy how fun all of it can be.

The tingling Waldron feels, and believes you will too, is at least safer than sex, both from a reproductive and a public health standpoint.  Still, for mature analysis there are few better places to go than Chris Hayes, who on Friday interviewed two individuals about the World Cup, including The Nation's sports editor Dave Zirin, who has written "Brazil's Dance with the Devil: The World Cup, the Olympics, and the Struggle for Democracy." Hayes introduced the segment by noting

the first day of the World Cup will be remembered for more than  just action on the field. Outside the stadiums, many Brazilians took to the streets in protest. Police used percussion grenades and tear gas on hundreds of protesters in Sao Paulo and other cities. Two CNN journalists and an Associated Press photographer were among the dozens injured in the clashes.

I have got to say the protesters have a pretty strong case. This World Cup is estimated to have cost Brazil at least $11 billion and as much as $14 billion, making it the most expensive ever, money the protesters say would have been better spent on desperately needed housing, education, health care and food.

To get a sense of how this money is being spent, it makes sense we start in Manaus, which is located in the middle of the Amazonian rain forest, and where nearly $300 million was spent to build this 44,000-seat stadium, which will host four World Cup games, after that, not much.A fourth division Brazilian team plans to play in the stadium after the World Cup, but it can`t possibly hope to fill that stadium.

But that`s the ransom demanded by FIFA, the organization that runs international soccer, which is widely and probably correctly viewed as an absolutely corrupt racket. FIFA is run by Sepp Blatter, who leads an organization believed to be awash in bribery and who once charmingly suggested the way to make women`s soccer more popular is to have female players wear tighter shorts.

FIFA runs roughshod over the countries that host the World Cup, exempting itself from taxes, getting laws changed it does not like, including a Brazilian ban on selling beer in stadiums that was designed to keep safe. That apparently did not go over well with the World Cup sponsor Budweiser.

In an op-ed earlier in The New York Times, Zirin had written

FIFA’s corruption has been such an open secret for so many years that when new reports emerge, they tend to provoke more eye-rolls than outrage.

FIFA is supposed to police match-fixing, yet a New York Times investigation revealed that only six people on its staff of 350 are responsible for that enforcement. It is supposed to monitor corruption, but it’s not clear it does. There have long been allegations that bribes secured the 2022 World Cup for Qatar.

The head of FIFA’s own independent governance committee (which was recently disbanded) suggested holding a new vote for the right to host the 2022 World Cup. And the European football federation’s representatives to FIFA have threatened to protest against Mr. Blatter when he declares his intention this week to seek yet another term as FIFA’s head.

It’s easy to be cynical about all of this, but cynicism is a luxury we can no longer afford.  Anyone paying attention to the myriad injustices emerging in the international soccer of the 21st century can see that the stakes are a great deal higher than whether a few palms are greased.

In Brazil, site of the 2014 World Cup, the FIFA-driven push to build new stadiums at a breakneck pace has led to the deaths of nine construction workers. FIFA’s demands for security and infrastructure may end up displacing as many as 250,000 poor people, who live in the favelas surrounding Brazil’s urban centers. The cost of the games continues to tick upward, the latest figures climbing as high as $15 billion. Brazil’s own 1994 World Cup star, Romário, called the 2014 tournament “the biggest heist in the history of Brazil.”

The situation is even worse in Qatar, site of the 2022 World Cup. Hundreds of migrant workers have already died in the oil kingdom’s efforts to build new “FIFA-quality stadiums.” This, along with recently emerging bribery allegations, has led some high-level FIFA officials to talk openly about moving the event to a new locale.

Hayes played a portion of the video (full video, below) from John Oliver's "Last Week Tonight," in which we learned that the government of Brazil is spending $11 billion on the spectacle and that the US game against Ghana would be played a new, $270 million stadium. After that, the site is to be used for four other World Cup games, after which it will, Oliver quipped, "become the world's largest bird toilet."

Hayes concluded the report Friday by summarizing "There's something sort of perfect, right, that captures 21st century globalization, that the entire world sits and watches what is a very enjoyable, corrupt racket." In the United States, the games will be watched by many foreign-born people and many native-born, many of the latter of whom will forget how to spell the word "soccer" six months after the winner is crowned.  With soccer a fine sport (at least it's not golf- we're talking sports here), most people will, like Travis Waldron, find the games enjoyable.  Perhaps it will be as good for you as it was for him.

Remember, though, that it is never, never a good thing to dance with the devil.

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