PostsPrint This Post
June 5, 2014
A post from pre-World Cup Rio by Gosia Kowalska.
Not surprisingly, football is omnipresent in Rio de Janeiro. On the countless football pitches in Flamengo Park in front of the hotel where I stayed during the ‘2nd International Conference on Mega-events and the City‘, referees’ whistles are heard almost 24 hours a day – even at 3 am when the waiters finish their work and gather to play a match before sunrise. As in so many places in the world, cariocas get together to watch football in cafes, and kids wear shirts with the names of their, and their fathers’, favourite players, but club colours are also seen on the beach where the flags of Botafogo and Fluminese proudly flutter over the neighbouring kiosks with agua de coco and caipirinha.
The World Cup, however, seems to belong to a very different sphere. It has to do with pacification of favelas and displacement, as well as with citizens’ protests against the wealth distribution and arrogance of FIFA and the country’s elites. Each time I asked my hosts about the World Cup and the Olympic Games, they hardly ever talked football; they would rather discuss the power of the Rede Globo and the possible future of the new potential born within Brazilian society in the mass protests before the upcoming mega-events. Therefore, one pays less attention to advertisements and construction sites than to the constant noise of helicopters patrolling the supposedly uneasy favelas. Even those visitors who are determined not to leave southern Rio must pass through the not-so-glamorous districts of the city when taking a shuttle to the international airport . A short glimpse into their streets is enough to give one a sense of the flipside of the development and splendor of Ciudad Maravillosa.
Rio and its ‘two footballs’ are symptomatic of the global tensions between the rich and the poor. Both the World Cup and the Games stimulated discussion on the future shape of Brazilian capitalism and democracy, but they can also be analysed dialectically, as mirroring the widening gap between the leisure world of the affluent and the basic needs and rights of those who cannot afford it. Is the World Cup going to be a big football fiesta or rather a chance to show the world that the city, as the organisers of the conference claimed, is ‘already at war’? Probably both, and this schizophrenic image of a locality is not confined to Brazilian cities.
‘Democracy is the government of the people, by the people, for the people’, according to Abraham Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg address. He did not know that at the very same time, in November 1863, on the other side of the Atlantic, some guys were busy drafting the rules of a new ball game in the Freemasons’ Tavern in London. One and a half century later, football and democracy meet at the world’s most important mega-event in Brazil. For the people or against the people?