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June 26, 2014
Yesterday, I was quoted in a number of French newspapers as saying that the World Cup 2014 has been, so far, better organised than the London Olympics 2012. It is my duty to report that this does not in any way whatsoever misrepresent my views.
I stand by what I said.
There have been months, if not years, of negative reports on the 2014 World Cup. Before the event started, comments from all quarters (Western media, FIFA, patrons and waiters at the pub alike) promised absolute doom and gloom in Brazil. The stadia would not be ready in time, spectators would be prevented from travelling to the venues because the infrastructures would not be ready in time or because Brazilians would be protesting to no end. Most commentators were very short of saying ‘those lazy, unpatriotic and unreliable Brazilians’ – when they did not actually say it…
Unless I am mistaken, so far none of this has actually happened. All the stadia are ready and used for the Cup. Brazilians are exercising their democratic right to protest and there are isolated reports of Pelé or other football celebrities not making it to the venue. Yet, stadia are not only ready. They are full at every game! Even when South Korea is playing Algeria, in a game where the sporting stakes are not high.
Compare this with the London Olympics which were marred by a number of controversies:
- Many venues were nearly empty for many of the early Olympic events. Although, on this instance the Daily Telegraph blamed foreigners (!) (as they always would ?), LOCOG, the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games reluctantly admitted responsibility when they found solutions and used the army (!) to fill the empty seats.
- The army already had to be mobilised to make up for the shortcomings of G4S, the private company LOCOG had commissioned for the security of the games. Indeed G4S had failed to recruit enough guards for the Olympics. As usual, the Daily Telegraph and large sections of the English press used casually xenophoboic rhetoric, pointing those guards recruited by G4S may not even speak Enlgish (‘bloody foreigners’ again!)
- Brazil has been accused of going overboard when it comes to controlling the demonstrations. I would most certainly agree that fewer policing is usually a better solution when people are exercising their democratic rights pacifically. However, the British authorities went even more overboard than the Brazilian government when it comes to security. Just think: the army was allowed to install ground-to-air missiles on private property near the Olympic sites. As even the BBC pointed, this was just for « show » and could realistically not serve any purpose. Who would shot down an airplane a few hundred yards from a stadium, apart from someone who is trying very hard to get this plane to crash on the stadium and kill a maximum of people? Let’s mention that, although the demonstrators are a reality in Brazil, we are yet to see a plane, or even a hang glider for that matter, threaten the Olympic sites.
We could add to the list of ‘things that went pearshaped at London 2012’: for example, the gatecrasher at the parade of nations which shocked many people in India, LOCOG displaying a South-Korean flag instead of North-Korea (logically the North-Korean team refused to warm up and play until the right flag was displayed, prompting the game to be very much delayed…) but the point is not to criticise otherwise relatively well organised Olympics. I don’t want to be unfair with the Brits either as there are often controversies surrounding the organisation of a mega event. Let’s just recall that, to my knowledge, the only international sporting event that had to change country because a stadium was not built in time, is the 2007 Athletics World Championship, planned in Wembley, London and which finally happened in Oslo. Once more, let’s be fair with Britain: construction delays are common in every country, and construction budgets almost invariably go overboard.
The point, instead, is to show the gap between reality and perception. Whenever an event is organised in a Southern country, the discourse, and the memory, is of potential fiascos, that have usually not materialised. Whenever an event is organised in a Northern country, the discourse, and the memory, is of success, even when there were actual fiascos.
Following Edward Said, we can call this ‘orientalisation’, and say that in a world where the East/West divide was replaced in the 1990s by a North-South divide, this is the result of a distorted view that the Western/Northern media have of the Orient/South.
Let’s say things much more clearly: this is a xenophobic, or even racist, discourse.