// Foreword //
This year, Brazil has occupied a central space in the global public consciousness. As the host nation for this summer’s 2014 FIFA World Cup, it became the subject of worldwide scrutiny, making headlines for its performances both on and off the pitch. In late October, attention was redirected towards the presidential elections, which saw the PT’s Dilma Rousseff scrape a hold on a second term in office.
Undoubtedly, the international media coverage of and around these two events has shaped many an outsider’s understanding of Brazil. With the Olympics returning the sporting torch to Rio in 2016, keeping Brazil in the public eye, we now face the task of advancing international commentary on this emergent global power.
Yet in handing back the task of showcasing this nation to a second sporting event, and observing its acquiescence to the promises of political continuity (a victory margin of less than 3.3 percentage points marked the tightest vote in 25 years) we already face the challenge of surmounting early signs of repetition. We, as international spectators, must anticipate the risk of relapsing our narrative and falling into patterns of cyclical commentary on Brazil; of superficially contracting this nation to the size, scope and subject of our TV screens.
The World Cup became a vehicle for presenting Brazil to the world. Given the country’s love of football, this may have seemed a fitting course. However, many have criticised the mainstream media’s synonymous treatment of event and host, arguing that it has resulted in the construction of a national narrative bound up in normative – and often reductive – social paradigms. As remarked by Ambassador Jaguaribe at the Brazilian Embassy in London: “If you watched the series of programmes shown before the World Cup, then you will probably think you went to a different country; not the one that was portrayed in the media.”
In the lead up to the tournament, reporters revelled in the hype. Sensationalist headlines were pitted against a slew of documentaries which, for the most part, chose to place their accent on Brazil’s enduring social problems: crime, violence, large-scale corruption and inequality. They performed a sensationalistic narrative, forecasting widespread crisis by honing in on the stories and images that best suited their tragic prophecy, such as shots of an overpass collapsing in Belo Horizonte – homage, perhaps, to the histrionics of Brazil’s popular telenovelas.
And yet, such tragic prophecies were ultimately – and rather spectacularly – inverted. The host nation’s unprecedented 7-1 defeat to Germany became the only shortcoming in what was popularly deemed to have been the best World Cup in history.
No sooner had the channel flicked on the tournament’s fate than images of crisis and chaos were replaced with Copacabana cheer. Indicators of social unrest were reduced to circumstantial qualifiers, factors which merely stood to hinder the execution of a sporting event. As one article chose to phrase it: ‘Yes there have been the incumbent problems of poverty and logistical chaos, but […] Brazil has made its own mark: the people, the stadiums, the atmosphere – and the games.’ Only as preface to the elections would discussions of a social, political or economic nature be granted back their proper space in print.
The World Cup made space for further global engagement with Brazil. But rather than relying solely on attention-grabbing headlines and news mediated by the agenda of an international event, what we now need is a more sustainable lens through which to observe and engage with this country and its culture in the forthcoming years. We need to look between these shots so carefully framed by the Western gaze.
A stroll down Rio’s Copacabana beach less than a week after the tournament’s close revealed a cluster of precarious metal skeletons housing temporary broadcast suites; the sole rem(a)inder of the hype around the games. From inside these towering structures, we watched international reporters toe the line with official praise of the event. Down on the ground, however, a few steps further along the beach, sprawled the graffitied trace of Brazilian voices left questioning the long-term impact on their country.
So, let us pick up their pen, and frame a narrative led by native hands.
In a series of online instalments, The Cambridge Globalist will be presenting conversations and images from Brazil, weaving them together in an attempt to illustrate the complex social fabric of a nation which, in the media at least, has yet to be fully explored.
// Conversations //
Rio de Janeiro / Christopher Gaffney- Academic
In Botafogo, one of Rio’s beachfront neighbourhoods, lives Christopher Gaffney, an academic and visiting professor in the Graduate School of Architecture and Urbanism at the Universidade Federal Fluminense in Niterói. He has been investigating the urban, political and economic interventions for the 2014 World Cup, and the long-term implications for Brazil of hosting the event.
Based on his research to date, I ask Christopher if he would consider the World Cup to have been a success:
“For FIFA, the World Cup was a great success. In terms of the event itself, it worked. But for Brazil, the country was suspended for a month. It was a total waste of money, a transfer of wealth from public to private hands. It was a real estate grab, and that’s what the Olympics are too.”
This distinction he makes between the two hosts bodies, Brazil and FIFA, seems to be common among Brazilians: “Sure. The World Cup happened here in Rio. But the people’s football is what you see on the beach and in the park. Beyond that, it’s all rotten and corrupt.”
If this is indeed the case, I ask, then why is it that no reporters took up this angle on the event?
“It’s just too complicated for the mainstream media,” he replies. I ask why this might be.
“Entertainment is depoliticised. There is no political consciousness about sport. Likewise, if Coca Cola starting killing people tomorrow, people would still drink it. There is no sense of consumerism as a political construct. At an academic level we write about it, we talk about it, we have conferences about it, 30, 40, maybe 50 of us. But people’s teams are such a part of their identity. They go to support them, for the love of the game, and politics doesn’t get a look in. People cannot think about their teams as political, about their sport as political, about their identity as political.”
Conducting his research, Christopher has frequent conversations with FIFA:
“They aren’t able to think about what they do as a business model. They consider themselves the producers of a product, an international agency with a mandate to develop football everywhere. In order to justify that development, they have to host a World Cup that maximises their profit. And so the World Cup generates US$4.5 billion, $1.5 billion of which was profit. Because they’re a not-for-profit, that then has to be distributed via salaries etc. Thus, this self-proclaimed role of FIFA as an international development agency creates a tightly circular logic which is used to justify the World Cup. When I try to tell them that they are the articulator of multinational business interests, which range from stadium constructors to architects, security firms, hospitality packages, everything that involves the World Cup, they employ this distorted, fraudulent logic.”
It is not just FIFA, however, who Christopher accuses of working in their own best interest. He reflects on the trajectory of the Brazilian state:
“Everything in Brazil is so much bigger than it was 50 years ago; the population has doubled. And in the political arena, since Lula and the PT first came to power, we have gone from 15 to 29 ministries at the federal level. This syndicalisation of the state itself has become its own best interest.
Corruption here is systemic; it has been part of Brazilian culture for 500 years. In North America, Western Europe, we have managed to hide our corruptions better. Here it’s just naked. I think that the basic systems of Brazil don’t work, so if you’re not engaged in daily corruption of some form, you just cannot get by: the bank, the bus, the line at the supermarket, everyone is always looking for some way to get around something, because if you follow the rules in Brazil, you’re done.
It’s almost impossible to get things done, so you have an entirely parallel system. Because there is no transparency in government, justice is not accessible, unless you have a lot of money. So how do you access power in any way without having some sort of alternative system?”
Christopher characterises Brazil as a highly insular place:
“The military dictatorship saw a long period of anti-intellectualism. And a long period of Brazilians not knowing anything about the rest of the world. The best Brazilian artists from the 70s and 80s were in exile, where they came into contact with new ideas. Not much came internally from Brazil.
“Those people who grew up in Brazil in that era, not ever having left the country, are now the people in charge. Because of this, a path dependent lack of creativity has evolved. This is acutely palpable in the field of urban architecture. We are so far in the past. The Institute of Brazilian Architecture is fantastically conservative, just like most other Brazilian institutions. It has been locked in a state of Niemeyerism for over 50 years – in fact we’re still building Niemeyer plans from the 1950s.”
It is for this reason, Christopher concludes, that Brazil was unable to take on FIFA this summer and truly showcase itself through the games:
“Granted, a Brazilian architect did redo the Maracana, but it looks like just about every other stadium in the world. The Brazilians denied themselves the opportunity to appropriate their own culture and for that to be one of the things that made the World Cup noticeable.”
The conversation continues. See Also:
Brasilia / Mateus da Silva Fontenes, Translator at the National Congress
“[…] Personally, I did not see much major profit in it for people here in Brazil. I didn’t like to see how there was a brutalisation of the police forces in order to make sure the World Cup was not interrupted by protest. But then again, we were here, receiving people from all over the world, Brazil met the standards expected by international tourism, which may open doors to new unexploited opportunities […]”
Rio de Janeiro / Cristina Becker, Arts Curator & Global International Consultant
“[…] There is no cultural infrastructure in place, and as a result, Brazilian artists are struggling. This is not for want of talent or drive, but of support, both in terms of an accessible creative platform, and funding […]”
São Paulo / Roberto Winter, Artist
“[…] Brazil is one of the most closed countries in the world, only beaten by North Korea and China. We have an apparently thriving local market for art, but practically no foreign galleries, and few foreign artists represented by local galleries. There is a certain imbalance between the economy and the culture, the whole thing comes from the closest related history, the dictatorship […]”
London / Ambassador Roberto Jaguaribe, Embassy of Brazil
“[…] My problem with global governance of sport, and indeed, global governance in general, is that it deals with an enormously valuable public good but it is not run through public interest. It is run in the interest of a group that is self-preserving and self-contained, and can continue to do that forever without answering to public demands, they are not answerable to anything. They own the governance of an enormously relevant social good- not just from a financial point of view, but a cultural and even political one, an enormous asset.[…]”
“[…] There is enormous flexibility in football. All you need is a ball, sometimes not even that. You can play one against one, two against two, you can play wherever you want with very little expenditure. 50 years ago, during my childhood in Brazil, it was very common to find people playing with what we call sock-balls – you just bundle them together, tighter and tighter, and start kicking them around. Sometimes the Indians in the Amazon would play with big heavy balls, made from freshly tapped rubber […]”
// Brazil Between the Shots // continues with further interview instalments in the forthcoming weeks.
With thanks to Trinity College, Ambassador Roberto Jaguaribe, Michael James Marsden, Magda Dzugan, Alex Bellos, Susie Nicklin, Adriana Pavlova, Cristina Becker, Flavio Alves, Renato Rocha, Max de Haldevang, Stephen Eisenhammer, Tom Ashe, Christopher Gaffney, Mateus da Silva Fontenes, Cayo Honorato, Senator Ricardo Ferraço, Senator Eduardo Suplicy, Senator Casildo Maldaner, Senator Ana Amélia, Tom Hennigan, Jan Piotrowski, Roberto Winter, Marieke van Hal, Daniel Rangel, Tera Queiroz, Fernanda Brenner, Gisela Motta, Leandro Lima, Marcos Chaves, Raul Zito, Boa Mistura, Luisa Strina, Lia Contrucci, General Richard Turner, Ambassador Alex Ellis, Fernanda Feitosa, Heitor Martins, Marcelo Araujo, Tom Petzal, Jane Stockdale and James Rogers