The Fan Who Sold His Honor & the
World Cup Coach Who Can’t Drive
Even if Fifa were a model of probity, which recent allegations have shown it clearly is not, or street rallies against its costs had cooled off with the start of the games, which they haven’t, the World Cup in Brazil has already provided a whole plethora of political drama.
From the multicultural bleachers to the quarrels over refereeing, from the quality of the grass drainage to antiaircraft artillery on civilian buildings, matches and goals have been thrilling, for sure, but what’s going on beyond the pitch may as well upstage it all.
As Brazilians protest the money bacchanal, brokered by Fifa and funded by its mega sponsors, and the competition heats up with record goals and relatively few surprises so far, one wonders whether there’s even space on the coverage for anything else. As it turns out, we make room for just that sort of thing.
For appalling mistakes committed by field officials are as much a part of the game as its players’ cheap theatrics, and with all certainty, will remain the theme of late night, heated discussions over tears and beers for years to come. It’s what’s not so obvious, though, that we’re most interested.
Thus, while that Barcelona star may be executing a perfect curvy free kick, out of sight and in the middle of a sea of multicolored tribute jerseys, someone may be giving a whole country a black eye, or a sympathetic one, by just flicking their wrist. At times, cameras may capture the moment but mostly, they may miss it.
And, just as life itself, the so called ‘teaching moments’ go beyond the walls of these temples of football, or through another march against high ticket prices on a street nearby. World Cup-related news, not so breaking but weird just the same, may be happening right across from the stadium, atop some apartment building.
The reach of this tournament may have a surprising sway both at the confluence of sports and morality, and as far as some court decision across the ocean. Coming July 13, regardless of who’ll lift the trophy, we’ll have gone through a common experience of such a planetary scale that each of these stories may count as much as the goals scored.
And you may thank your lucky shirts for we’re skipping altogether anything about the tragic Nigeria blast, that killed several people (in a replay of Uganda four years ago, remember?) or the Mexican drugpin who got nabbed by the Feds after he bought a ticket to the World Cup… on his own name. Smart.
GREED & CIVILITY AT THE STANDS
Speaking of most Brazilians, they may be fighting the good fight against corruption, but apparently José Humberto Martins is yet to get the memo. Last week in Natal, he was one of the thousands wearing a plastic poncho during the rain soaked Mexico vs. Cameroon game.
According to his own account, at some point, he was approached by a drenched tourist who offered to buy his cheap garment, unaware it was on sale for $14 elsewhere at the stadium. Not one to let the chance to make a buck pass, torrential pouring notwithstanding, José agreed to sell it on the spot: for $200!
The good name of soccer fans everywhere was rescued from the mud the following day, though, after Ivory Coast defeated Japan, in Recife. Instead of being sore losers and sullen with the adverse score, a group of Japanese supporters actually stayed behind and clean up their entire section of the stadium.
The fact that such an outstanding example of sportsmanship is part of their culture doesn’t diminish an iota the way it elevates the game’s civility level. Now if they could only please forward that memo to José. Surely in the future, he’ll at least avoid bragging about it to the press.
CUT FROM THE SKIPPABLE SHOW
Most people generally agreed that the show that opened the World Cup was as parochial and unremarkable as, well, most shows of the kind. Perhaps such a low-tech and sparse display is too much of a contrast to the opening ceremony of recent games in Beijing and London.
Most people are being unfair, though, because those elaborated and arresting visual spectacles fulfill a different function for the Olympics: they’re often the only time when the whole world watches a single event at the same time. As the competitions starts, the audience splits up into preferences.
Not quite so with football. The games actually draw most of everyone, even the non-fans, much more than the few millions of arch-and-bow aficionados, for instance, or the track and field heats. With the rare exception, soccer still attracts the most people when teams are playing, not parading.
Among the many things the opening show did not broadcast, though, there was one that wasn’t shown not for lack of funding or talent, but for politics: one of the kid performers was a Native Brazilian carrying a red banner demanding the demarcation of indigenous peoples’ land, a sore and unresolved issue in Brazil.
Even that the show did include a segment on the Amazon flora and fauna, which supposedly includes the people living in the Amazon, the moment the kid unfurled the banner, the broadcast was cut to another shot of Jennifer Lopez’s tiny outfit. Not a surprise, just something you definitely won’t see on the replays.
BABY, YOU CAN DRIVE MY CAR
Don’t remind Portugal about it, but the Germans were a blast on their first game, as always. You may say that, traditionally, German soccer squads know how to make a first impression, and we feel it’s our duty to report, all cliches about efficiency and precision continue to apply.
Many credit their current might to Joaquin Loew, the coach who succeeded Jurgen Klinsmann at the helm of the team, and they do seem to reflect the skipper’s somewhat boyish qualities. Incidentally, Americans are getting a good dose of said efficiency now that Klinsmann is coaching Team U.S.A.
So, about German execution, power and ability to make a splash, there are only positive things to be said. However, as far as Loew’s own driving skills are concerned, not so much. In reality, much of that aforementioned boyish quality came back to haunt him, right when he should be concentrated on coaching.
He got a six months suspension in Germany, for speeding and talking on the phone while driving, serious offenses indeed. For the record, he promised that he’s learned his lesson. And that should be it. We leave all righteous lecturing about moral compass and qualities of a true leader to those who like that sort of thing.
MARACANÃ IN THE CROSS HAIRS
Almir Gomes Cardoso, a retired economist who lives near Maracanã Stadium, in Rio, was shocked to walk out of his building one recent morning and face a whole platoon of Brazilian marines, unloading and carrying inside, in a frenzy, heavy military equipment, according to Brazil’s Estadão newspaper, .
The soldiers were obviously not in a position to disclose it, but unbeknownst to Almir and other residents, the Brazilian Navy was installing a set of anti-aircraft missile artillery atop his building, as part of its security strategy to protect the stadium from an attack. This being Rio, the measure is not that shocking.
In the past two years, the army has worked closely with the police and other law enforcement agencies to repurpose entire networks of drug dealers, based in the city’s favelas, in a violent process that often involved heavy artillery. Such process also caused the eviction of thousands of law-abiding residents.
Drug wars have been part of Rio’s daily life for at least 30 years, but the World Cup preparations served as the perfect argument to raid impoverished communities, enmeshed deeply alongside underground traffic hubs operating next door. Seeking to protect their turf, drug gangs have even shot down a police helicopter, in 2009.
To load missiles atop civilian buildings is not a novel idea, though, as the British Ministry of Defence installed them on East London during the 2012 Olympic Games. The difference is that Londoners, who allowed the temporary military occupation, reportedly got some benefits out of it. No word on anything remotely similar happening in Rio.
So if anyone learns of some kind of reward being offered in exchange for surrendering one’s own living quarters to serve as a potential military barricade in case of a war conflagration, please message Almir. We’re sure he’ll be very appreciative.
* Color It Splash