Curtain Raiser

Joy & World Woes By the Cup Full, Colltalers

The monthlong 2014 World Cup, which closed in Rio yesterday with Germany’s victory over Argentina, had its fair share of ecstasy, agony, fulfillment and heartbreak. As it goes, it also reflected, with frightening accuracy at times, the troubled and deeply divided world we all live in.
For even before it started on June 12, it’d already collected a number of ominous signs revealing more than its organizers, Fifa and the Brazilian confederation, would like us to see, about brutal realities hidden just behind the exuberance of the game of football in modern times.
Good and bad, the cup will leave lasting impressions, as any event of such magnitude, memories to recollect, lessons we’d better not forget, and an index of sorts for some of the most nefarious and persistent ills of our age.
Displays of racism, homophobia, neo-nazism, evidence of social exclusion in game attendance, ticket fraud, corruption of national confederations, violence in and out of the field, it was all out for anyone to see.
As the host, Brazil led the charge, and last summer, as the warm-up competition Confederations Cup was in progress, Brazilians staged the first massive rallies since the end of the military dictatorship, in the 1980s, in protest against Fifa and the government’s preparations for the cup.
By then, it’d become clear that in the five years since Brazil had been chosen to host both tournaments, huge investments supposed to fund them and flood the economy had already been diverted. On the ground, the only palpable sign of their influx was in the construction or rebuilding of mammoth stadiums, some of them in cities without a team in the Brazilian soccer league, and, it was found later, mainly funded by taxpayer money.
So where was their money? asked thousands of citizens. It’d certainly not gone to Brazil’s decaying infrastructure, hospital facilities, or in the building of much needed schools. Such an explosive realization, which served as the trigger for the rallies that ebbed and flowed up to the World Cup this year, got then a temporarily relief, relatively speaking, as Brazil won the Confederations. Now that it lost the big prize, it’s all up for grabs again.
When a group of German black-faced fans showed up for the game against Ghana, or another one ran into the field with a Nazi SS tattooed on his body, their intentions were clear. And so were chants of ‘monkey, monkey,’ and a homophobic call from Mexican supporters during other games.
Brazil’s social inequality was also exposed during the cup. Critics pointed to high price tickets as one way to keep the poor out of the stadiums, and for the predominance of white Brazilians attending the games, in higher percentages than the social and racial mix of the nation’s demographics.
Such social divide was at display in the ‘silent army‘ of garbage pickers, hired by the organizers to collect and sort the average five ton of garbage generated by every game. As hundreds of thousands of Brazilians already make a living out of ‘mining’ landfills, in a country with few recycling programs, their presence was considered a positive one, even if it doesn’t cover up for the inherent indignity of the have-nots’ lot in life.
Another black eye that may be credited to cup organizers is the alleged elimination of stray dogs from the streets of some host cities in Brazil. Just as it happened in Sochi, Russia, the Humane Society has received reports of the animals being ’rounded up and removed,’ no one knows to where.
But the biggest scandal that broke during the games has been the allegations that a company partner of Fifa, Match Hospitality, was running a giant ticket scalping scheme, worth a few million dollars. Brazilian authorities arrested its CEO, Raymond Whelan, who promptly escaped custody and is now the target of a police manhunt. Despite denials, Fifa is expected to answer to an official investigation into the ring.
Fifa is also involved in two other somewhat revealing matters: the suspension of the Nigerian team from international appearances, until the government reinstates the entire soccer governing staff that it fired for poor performance in Brazil. And a copyright dispute with giant Hispanic broadcast system Univision.
In both instances, lack of sensitivity and the zeal protecting its interests were typical. In the case of Nigeria, despite the expected venal government truculence, it’s hard to find winners in the decision, since the players are the ones ultimately punished by it. As for Univision, well, that’s big enough of a corporation that certainly doesn’t need us to take its side, regardless of who has the most rights over the labor exercised by, again, the players.
It all sounds minor, compared to what Fifa has been accused by community groups, from supporting the displacing of thousands to install its ‘Fan Fests,’ Continue reading

Cold Cups I

Fads & Ads Compete for
Another World Cup Score

Once the ball starts rolling in São Paulo tomorrow, not everything will be about football. It hasn’t for over a year now, if you’ve been following the street protests in Brazil, as it hasn’t ever been about the game only as long as, well, Fifa remains in charge.
Thus, as much attention will be paid to players’ skills as to their ability to sell wares with their bodies, attire, and hairstyles. Cynics may even say that what’s at stake is not who’ll win the World Cup, but which sportswear company will sell the most: Nike or Adidas.
Increasingly, what soccer stars wear and endorse has indeed driven revenues of sport and designer goods, along with their personal tastes for tattoos and haircut styles. We can’t really end this sentence without mentioning David Beckham, the retired British player.
But while Becks has the physique of a natural born model, and his commercial appeal is only enhanced for his pop-star turned into stylist wife, many others have distinguished themselves for personal choices so ugly esthetically speaking, that they become iconic just the same.
Case in point: Brazil’s Ronaldo Nazário’s hairstyle at the final of the 2002 World Cup in Japan. He scored all the goals and his team won the trophy, but that ‘triangular island’ of hair on top of his otherwise shaved head captured more than its share of advertising’s prime real estate.
No wonder it leads the New York Times Hairdo Hall of Fame now. But enough of your hair, what about shoes, Imelda Marcos? My, haven’t you heard, dahling? red is the new black. Or orange. Or any color but black. We should’ve heeded a certain pontiff’s personal taste; just saying.
A FORMER POPE’S FASHION FANCY
As it turned out, we greatly underestimated ex-Pope Benedict and his exquisite choice of foot attire. He was only foreseeing the future, you see – the one presided over by current soccer-crazy Pope Francisco – when flaunting the most famous pair of red shoes this side of Dorothy.
Now in Brazil, word is that every soccer star worth his fashion endorsements will display a pair of colorful shoes, sometimes one for each foot, matching jersey or hair die optional. And the crowds have gone wild over them. Black shoes? Only if you’re a referee.
Purists may decry this lack of substance that threatens to take away the sport’s very own vitality in the name of fads, which by definition and unlike soccer legacies, are not built to last. But there’s no denying: athletes have been selling wares since way before Beckham sported a Mohawk. Does anyone remember Colombian Carlos Walderana’s do, at the U.S. World Cup in 1994? The Hairdo Hall of Fame surely does.
For footballers themselves (and here we stop a long-running fancy of misnaming an American ballgame and give back the name football, at least during the month-long tournament, to soccer as it’s already known by billions around the world), it’s more than an extra income. Many have turned their Continue reading