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This Guy Says FIFA and the IOC Are to Blame for the Brazilian Protests

David Zirin has extensively covered the problems with sports today and believes the one-two punch of the World Cup and the Olympics is largely to blame for things reaching a boiling point in Brazil.
June 20, 2013, 9:32pm

The Brazillian uprising. Photos by Stephanie Foden.

It’s been over a week since Brazil erupted into mass protests, and people are finally starting to realize that the 0.2 real (0.9 USD) raise in bus fare is not the only reason why. Even though Brazil finally caved and reversed the fare hike, people are still pissed off.

#ChangeBrazil has been grabbing the world’s attention and galvanized the country, but not in the same “Hurray, we got the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics!” kind of way when they were awarded these mega-events back in 2007 and 2009.

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Even though it’s a stereotype, most Brazilians really do like futbol. So, it might come as a surprise that a lot of Brazilians are actually pretty choked that they’re hosting the two biggest international sports competitions on earth. But that’s probably because the country is spending billions on soccer instead of on much needed health care and education. FIFA President Sepp Blatter said that football is being exploited for domestic problems facing Brazil, but author David Zirin thinks otherwise.

Dave is an author and a journalist who has written extensively about the problems with sports today. His latest book, Game Over: How Politics has Turned the Sports World Upside Down, adds to a collection of books like Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports that dive into the influence that sports has had over politics, economics, and human rights. Last September he went to Brazil to check out the effect that the World Cup’s preparation is having on the country. It’s pretty bleak. I recently called him up to talk about it.

VICE: It’s pretty clear that these protests aren’t just about the 20 cent hike in bus fares, what do you think they are about?
Dave: Oftentimes in mass social moments there is usually one small point, which crystallizes discontent and then it becomes a catchall for so much more. The May 1968 general strike in France started because people wanted to be able to have co-ed dorms so they could sleep over with their girlfriends and boyfriends when they went to college. This event became a symbol for all the repression and strict nature in France—and it mushroomed into something much bigger. Based on the people I’m speaking to in Brazil, the 20 real hikes on the bus fare becomes this catchall…

You’re raising fares on us, people who need public transportation to go to work and school everyday, but at the same time you’re able to pour in billions of dollars into the Olympics, into a rapid bus transit system, into the kinds of infrastructure, which fundamentally benefits wealthy tourists who are going to be coming in, not just in the mind of the state for the Olympics and the World Cup, but for all sorts of reasons to try and make the state more friendly to capital. What you have instead is people standing up and saying we disagree with these priorities.

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What’s your stance on the World Cup and the Olympics? Great event or huge waste of money?
It’s a massive social disruption for whatever city or whatever country is cursed with having to host these events. Historically, they tend to take much more out of the local economy than they put in. They tend to build stadiums referred to as “white elephants” that have no real use once the confetti is gone and the smoke is cleared. Yet, I would argue that it’s gotten even more profound post-9/11. It puts stress not only on the infrastructure projects that have no long term use, but it’s also linked very strongly to the surveillance state, towards “anti-terror initiatives,” which are not only a disruption on people’s lives, but it also militarizes the state. That is why in recent years when it comes to the World Cup and the Olympics you see a real tendency for the International Olympic Committee or FIFA to look to the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China), because they think with a lot of good reason that they can get away with the kinds of crack-downs that you wouldn’t be able to get away with if let’s say the Olympics was in Chicago.

So FIFA and the IOC are to blame for the protests?
Absolutely. Brazil is of course getting a left/right punch here because of having to host these events back-to-back. I mean really, this is unprecedented. The United States hosted the World Cup in 1994, and the Olympics in 1996, but they were nowhere near each other really. It’s a particular stress not just on the host country, but what they demand of the host country. There’s the expectation of “peace by any means necessary,” that you will remove people from their homes if you have to, that you will do whatever you have to do to the environment and also figure out ways to “greenwash” the thing so that everybody will call them the “Green Olympics” no matter how much pollution and smog is in the air. All these things are demanded by the IOC and by FIFA. [Brazil must sign FIFA’s “General Law of the World Cup”into law, but it is pretty controversial especially due to its restrictions of ticket prices. See: InfosurHoy and Cipamericas.]

Is there any way we can make these events work and not feel shitty about them?
The best way to make these events work, I think, is if there is a permanent staging ground for them—not this idea of bringing them from country to country to country and then being used as a cudgel of neoliberalism wherever they go. If you have them in a permanent locale wherever the hell that is, and I don’t really care where it would be, then you would be able to build the infrastructure for it once. You would be able to then repair and refurbish the infrastructure over the course of a period, but actually have some long-term use value. And they would also exist in such a way that they wouldn’t be able to be used and really prostituted by a local government as a way to push through economic initiatives that people would otherwise oppose, like they do in Brazil.

Countries don’t want out of hosting these events, they keep wanting in. Why are they still bidding to host them?
As recently as 1984 with the LA Olympics, Los Angeles was the only city that even bid to host the Olympics. After the experience of Montreal in 1976 nobody really wanted the Olympics anymore—they were seen as just overly negative. Peter Ueberroth [former chairman of the United States Olympic Committee] devised a different way to do it in conjunction with corporations as a way to get them to underwrite the costs, plus the fact that there was a strong recommendation from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank that the goal for every country should be to bring down tariffs, encourage global trade, get hard currency into the country—mega events are seen as ways to do that. And they undoubtedly are ways to do that, but not unlike other IMF and World Bank dictates, they tend to be very good for people in power and very bad for the people who actually have to live in the country. The value of investing in that country goes up, but the trickle-down effect just doesn’t work, it just doesn’t trickle down.

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Ernst & Young predicted that the World Cup and the Olympics in Brazil will bring in 3.6 million jobs and contribute 0.4 per cent of GDP until 2019. Those seem like pretty significant numbers.
It’s not that the jobs are trivial; it’s what’s going to happen to the jobs when they’re gone. And are those jobs the best thing that could happen with the $35 billion real ($18 billion USD) (which is a very conservative estimate) for spending on what the Olympics are going to be or the $26 billion ($13.3 billion USD) for what the World Cup is going to be? The question is not: Is it a bad thing that those jobs are being created? The question is: Are they the best possible jobs that could be created given the massive capital investment that’s going into Brazil?

Right… This is set to be the most expensive World Cup in history. What is raising the cost?
That’s a great question. The Sochi Olympics are going to cost more than the last 21 Winter Olympics combined and I don’t know enough to say if the Sochi story is the Brazil story, but I wouldn’t be surprised. It has to do with corruption or what you could call crony capitalism: whoever gets the contracts does substandard work, so things have to be built and then rebuilt and then rebuilt again. And the other thing is security. You know who the real winners of the Olympics and the World Cup are? The research and development divisions of private security companies. That’s been growing at an alarmingly rapid pace over the last decade and of course it’s expensive. The more research and development you put in, the more hidden cameras you put in and the more demands from FIFA or the IOC that you have, the  more it’s going to cost as well. I’m talking about unmanned drones, I’m talking about the missile launchers they attach to roofs of residential apartment buildings, the growth in cameras, the cameras that can code license plates. I mean all the things that turned London into this concentration of Big Brother mentality before and during the Olympics. [The Brazilian government said they have invested $535 millioninto security for the World Cup. Johnson Controls is a major security company with a $29 million budget to install cameras, ticket systems and communication between stadiums. The government has also recently purchased 34 anti-aircraft tanks from Germany. See this Bloomberg article about other people and organizations that benefit from the World Cup.]

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With so many massive problems with major, international sports events, do you ever get the feeling that it’s all just hopeless?
I think we have to separate what we like about sports and what we don’t like about sports and challenge what we don’t like to change. To me, sports are art and all art is contradictory. What I don’t believe in is throwing the baby out with the bathwater and saying “because there are structural problems with sports I’m therefore going to reject sports as an entire entity”—there’s too much good in there. I love the World Cup, I want us to be able to have a World Cup without having what’s happening to Brazil or what happened to South Africa, it frankly doesn’t seem like too much to ask.

Follow Joel on Twitter: @JoelBalsam

More from Brazil:

Sao Paulo is Burning

Rio Militarizes its Favela Slums in Preparation for the 2014 World Cup

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