Five Bullet Points On Brazil
& a Split-Decision to Strike
You may not know this but to most past World Cup hosts, the occasion was for national joy and jubilation, if not much for settling social scores. Brazil, though, is not buying into that placid template: in case you haven’t got the memo, Brazilians are actually angry.
They may have a point. But apart from all disturbing news about the (poor) preparations for the world’s biggest sports event that starts next week in São Paulo, here are five curiosities that go from the promising to the ‘peculiar’ to the far out.
We’ll get to them. But about that anger and the unsettling news: yes, it’s all true. The most expensive World Cup in history may turn out to be, arguably, the turnaround for Brazil’s dreams of being perceived as a global power, capable of handling its moment in the spotlight with composure.
A quick review of the staggering numbers shows that Brazilians are paying between $13 to $18 billion for the right to stage the games, but most of it has been invested either in riches that will quickly evaporate from the country, coming August, or will rot in some stadia built in the middle of nowhere.
Over 200 thousand people have been displaced to accommodate infrastructure projects for the cup and for the 2016 Olympic Games, also to take place in Brazil, according to a Mother Jones infographic, but many of such projects may not be finished for the opening kickoff, or may remain incomplete forever.
Discontent with the way funds have been diverted from needed and more permanent works, and public perception that President Dilma Rousseff hasn’t been fully cognizant to how Brazilians feel left out of the big party, have taken the country by storm and may only get louder during the cup.
In fact, she does seem less concerned about them than how the massive street rallies critical to what was supposed to be a celebration of Brazilians’ passion for the game, will impact the estimated one billion worldwide, expected to follow the month long competition.
But even as those problems have been called out over and over, and may be inseparable from the games this time around, it doesn’t mean we’re not working hard to provide you with some interesting alternatives to experience it all, insights that may be unique to this particular edition. And here they are:
1. THE WALKING STEAD
Talking about the opening kickoff, few know that, technically, it won’t be given by a human foot. Or it’ll but not exactly how one’d expect it. If all goes well, on June 12, a paralyzed person will walk on the field wearing an exoskeleton created by Brazilian neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis.
The technology behind the mind-controlled full-body suit has the potential to revolutionize mobility for millions of people. It’s not the first time that robotics is applied this way, but it still scores a kick in the arse of common indignities associated with being handicapped.
No word yet on who’ll be walking towards the middle of the Arena Corinthians and, with a thought or two, command the suit to help the foot kick the Brazuca. But you can bet your soccer shoes that, for many around the world, it’ll be as historical as the tournament’s winning goal.
2. WELCOME TO FAVELA INN
Some six million soccer fans are expected for the games, the last of them probably on their way in as we speak. But so is a severe hotel room shortage, with prices upwards of $380 a night to boot. So what choices a late comer has to rest their tired bones and avoid crashing in some godforsaken public square?
What about a shantytown? For a bargain $30, one can find a place to stay in one of the thousands of tiny houses, cramped together like jigsaw pieces, in one of Brazil’s hundreds of favelas, conveniently located in most state capitals and often with a much better ocean view than many a pricy hotel.
After all, this is a country where the so-called informal economy dominates entire segments of commerce, so even middle class families have gotten into the game and are renting rooms to visitors. Plus, just like much of the investments this cup has attracted, the taxman is unlikely to see the color of all this extra cash.
3. THE JUNGLE VILLAGE CUP
Protests against the World Cup have often featured native Brazilians, like the one last week, and many come from the vast Amazon region in the north of Brazil. A few miles deep in the jungle, takes place the April-to-September Active Forest Cup, in Suruacá, at the banks of Tapajós river, an affluent of the mighty Amazon river.
It took Wall Street Journal’s John Lyons a few days traveling by boat and foot, to get at what’s likely the only soccer cup that hundreds of forest villagers will ever participate. They may not have electricity or running water but, just like Brazilians southward from them, futebol is simply part of their lives.
Based in Manaus, Amazon state capital, Team USA has the unappetizing task of surviving a tough group while also traveling some 8,866 miles just for its first three games (and let’s hope they won’t stop there). They also may soon acquire a kind of kinship with the Active Forest teams: intimacy with the region’s intense heat.
4. HAWKING’S GAME PLAN
We can say with certainty that there’s been at least one marked evolution from the World Cup in South Africa, four years ago, to this edition in Brazil: we have a better predictor. If you did get the memo, you’d remember of Paul, the Octopus, who accurately predicted Spain’s ultimate win over the Netherlands.
He did that by eating a mussel, by the way. Well, as they said in the 1960s, Paul is dead. That’s when theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, of Black Holes fame, stepped up to the plate, to use a completely inappropriate sport metaphor, and made his own assessment of the English team and its chances to win.
Of course, Dr. Hawking created an elaborated mathematical probabilities formula, in which the British could win with a 4-3-3 attack formation. That could work. But, he added, they’ve got to be wearing red jerseys. And before you get too excited about his fashion flair, he also noted, dispiritingly, they ‘couldn’t hit a cow’s arse with a banjo.’
5. THE CHAMPION’S CUP
The World Cup’s been disputed every four years since 1930 (host and winner: Uruguay), up to now, with an interruption between 1938 to 1950 (hosted by Brazil, also won by Uruguay), when the world got distracted by something we can’t remember at this moment. Oh, that’s right, the war.
Next door neighbor Argentina also won twice, 1978 and 1986; England, 1966, France, 1998, and current World Champions Spain, 2010, each won once; Germany, three times, 1954, 1974 and 1990; Italy, four, 1934, 1938, 1982 and 2006; and Brazil, five, 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, and 2002. No wonder, these are all favorites to win it again.
Another, more obscure dispute is between Europe and South America: as it stands, advantage is currently Europe’s, 10 to 9. With all former champions vying for the trophy, and provided that Africa and Asia won’t show up at the final gate, July 13 may ultimately tie the count or give Europe a clear superiority.
NO ANSWERS AT THE END
‘Official admits that cellular reception may not work at some stadiums.’ ‘Allegations of match fixing at South Africa’s World Cup puts Fifa under scrutiny ahead of games in Brazil.’ ‘Crime fears prompt security blitz near major venues.’ ‘Strikes threaten to disrupt tournament.’ CDC advise travelers to have shots before heading to South America.’
It seems that everywhere you look these days, there’s another issue popping out about whether Brazil’s capable of guaranteeing at least safety for millions of people, and at the same time, fulfill legitimate aspirations of its citizenry about the country, way beyond the games.
However, now that’s probably too late to fix what should’ve been fixed months if not years ago, and it’s been established that no one should be silenced, just because Mommy Homeland wants to look good for prospective suitors, may also be an unmissable moment for Brazilians to embrace the complexity of their condition.
Making their voices heard shouldn’t preclude their ability to also enjoy a time in history that won’t come by again. There’s this irrational, albeit slightly precedent, fear that if we have too much of a good time at the party, we won’t get up tomorrow to go to work and make it better for ourselves and the nation.
A STRIKER’S PREDICAMENT
That if we don’t scream and make a scene now, with the visitors around, they won’t know how bad we’ve had, and we won’t be taken seriously when everyone is gone and we’re back on our own. Maybe what we really fear is ourselves not taking our own pain seriously. Like children who can’t be trusted with candy.
Perhaps what we’re afraid of is to have to grow up on our own and make our own choices, loudspeakers to the world be damned, for we should never need the visitors approval to fix our own house. And their presence is irrelevant whether they think we’re dangerous in our anger, or just spoiled in our indulgence.
When all fancy footwork is not enough, and we can’t expect the bleachers to be rooting for us for much longer, all may come down to the dreaded penalty kicks: one player and one goalkeeper, trying hard to read each other, while zooming out thousands of screamers, so to hear only one thing: their own heartbeat.
Some may have a method for these moments. But we, we may as well be at loss for what to do. We can just close our eyes, find a moment of silence amid the roar of the crowd and wait for the referee’s whistle. When that comes, however we kick it, we’ll be done with it. Joy or heartbreak won’t matter. Just that we did it.
* Paul Is Dead
* The Name Game