Example Of Brazil’s Dance With The Devil: The World CUP, Book Review
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The Olympics and the Fight for Democracy
When Brazil’s bids were accepted to host the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, naturally its government and many of its wealthy elite were absolutely ecstatic to showcase the nation that was known for putting on an exceptional party. In addition, Brazil wanted to show the world why it was nation’s fifth largest economy and that its recent economic strides were not a flash in the pan. Brazil was finally on the cusp of becoming a world power and depending on how the World Cup and the Olympics were presented they could assume their rightful place on the international stage. Therefore, the riots that rocked the nation in the year between the Confederation Cup and the World Cup shocked the world. Just how secure was democracy in Brazil and why was this happening? Although it was published prior to the outbreaks of violence and dissent, Dave Zirin’s book Brazil’s Dance With the Devil: The World Cup, the Olympics and the Fight for Democracy, endeavors to explain how Brazil’s political structure and history provide an ample foundation for this to occur. Zirin feels these events could rip Brazil asunder, but in reality these protests signify that democracy is working and these sporting events could be the impetus for a democratic future.
Zirin, who is the author of eight books, is the sports editor for the weekly publication The Nation and this novel is not a commentary or description of the state of Brazilian sports, but a critical expose on Brazilian politics in regards to hosting the World Cup and the Olympics. The book provides an introduction to the history of Brazil, which Zirin feels is imperative to understanding the political climate as a whole, then discusses the history of the Olympic games as well as the World Cup and then reveals the tales of individuals who gathered en masse to ensure their residences in the favelas, poor hillside communities or ghettos, would not be destroyed to make way for the buildings that would house these two sporting events.
Many people are probably unaware of Brazil’s infatuation with soccer over the course of its existence or its political, social and economic history. Zirin takes great pains to explain these associations with great clarity. He provides the impression that soccer is much more than a national pastime as it actually binds Brazilians together with one common element. Simply put, they live for the sport and are beyond passionate about it.
Zirin solidifies the Brazilians identity and love affair with soccer by placing a quote from Eduardo Galeano’s novel Soccer in Sun and Shadow at the beginning of almost every chapter of the book. He then explains how the sport Brazilians esteem and revere so deeply has been packaged, sold on the open market and shipped off to other locations around the globe. He then introduces the reader to a timeline of Brazil’s most highly recognizable futebol legends, the fields the game is played upon and the teams that play. This is where Pele, one of the most famous soccer players in the history of the sport, if not the most famous is discussed. When Zirin interviews Pele for the book, the athlete who also is positioned within the Brazilian government as a sports minister, would not respond in a negative fashion. He merely stated that many people
were poor and God provided some of these poor people with athletic ability so they could experience some pleasure in their lives.
Zirin also discusses Socrates, who is another outstanding Brazilian soccer star. During the 1980’s this man was at the helm of the left leaning soccer team, Corinthians, which clearly were in favor of political statements, decried military dictatorships and decided on future behaviors, etc as a unit. When Socrates shared his thoughts with Zirin on the funds being allocated by the Brazilian government to ready the nation for the World Cup and the Olympics, the athlete was frank. He felt the stadiums would be erected at the expense of the public and social programs would be ignored for facilities that would only be used for those sporting events and then stand vacant.
The complex history of Brazil is also delved into by Zirin. In his chapter, “There Is No Sin Below the Equator” the author reveals Brazil was built upon the backs of slaves and it was an accepted institution in that country for more than 300 years. Zirin claims that roughly three and a half million native populations in addition to imported Africans constituted this labor force. Over half the African slaves perished in their journey to Brazil. What must be kept in mind is half of the country’s current residents are directly related to the former slaves. Even presently with a democracy in place after the end of the military dictatorship in Brazil in 1985, racism is still rampant and part of daily life, for the elite in Brazil openly show prejudice against the African and indigenous citizens. The government attempts to portray itself as a diverse, open-minded country while it is anything but that. In fact, Brazil’s soccer stars are used to eradicate racial dissension through media programs that promote national equality.
Another important element in Zirin’s book that enables the reader to understand why Brazilians rioted and protested against the World Cup is the history of the Olympics and the soccer event itself. The Olympics was established in 1896 as another forum for the world’s most powerful nations to best each other in sport. The World Cup, however, has a much more rudimentary commencement. The brainchild of the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), which was only created to legitimize soccer regulations, the World Cup, like the Olympics has provided global acceptance of military dictatorships and governments that were abusive to its citizens by denying them civil liberties. For instance, the Olympics were Jesse Owens excelled were held in Germany and the World Cup was hosted by Argentina during their military junta days. That World Cup even held the distinction of being rigged or fixed. What is also similar about the two events is on both occasions, the games were played as if nothing was wrong in the world and with full pomp and circumstance. Neither event showed a hint of evidence of the evil underbelly that was hosting it.
In Zirin’s opinion the situations depicted in the hosting of these two sporting events is not relegated to the annals of history, but one that gained more significance after the World Trade Center attacks. He claims they are an opportunity for the governments to bring in high tech espionage equipment and resort to political repression. In other words, it provides an excuse. Zirin introduces the examples of the 2012 games in China and the 2014 Russian games when scant attention was focused on either nations’ horrific human rights violations record. He also discusses how the Vancouver games in 2010 and London in 2013 enabled the governments to use the excuse of providing stability for the sporting contests to limit civil rights so there were no
complaints in regards to government spending or politics. In addition, the Olympic games in Quatar that are scheduled for 2022, have already come under scrutiny as it has been revealed over the last year that many of the buildings it is erecting for the games are being built by migrant workers that are enslaved. Many of them have perished while they have been hard at work.
Zirin assesses the Olympic games and the World Cup as opportunities for corporate sponsors to haul in riches and leave the crumbs out for the poor. He claims these sporting events are tax refuges and the public pays for all the construction while the government spends nothing. Zirin feels that once the games are over, the country’s poorest residents take the brunt of the burden through cuts in social programs. Seeking to recoup the revenue, governments once again extract funds from people who can scarcely afford them. In fact, Zirin views these sporting events as monuments to the greed and graft of the world. He does not see them as a boon or blessing, but as a curse for the native populations for the nations they are held in. He feels the situation in Brazil is no different than in any other country that has been an Olympic or World Cup host. It’s merely that the Brazilian people chose to do something about it and were furious the government was spending funds that should have went to schools and hospitals rather than create stadiums were not one person would sit immediately after both sporting events had concluded.
What is probably most striking about the book is Zirin’s personal descriptions of the favelas of Brazil and his journey to what he calls “Michael Jackson Square” where the pop star filmed a video segment with Spike Lee in 1996. He recounts his own fear and dismay upon
encountering the abject poverty of the Brazilian people that reside in these self-fashioned ghettos. He was, however, uplifted by their spirit in their repeated attempts to stop the demolition of their communities for sports stadium construction and their resistance to police forces that sought to repress them, remove them from the streets and spy on them. All of this was naturally to increase security for the events and after the people were displaced from their homes, they would never be allowed to return because the property values would skyrocket.
Zirin claims 75 percent of the population believes the government is utterly wrong for spending on these events rather than building schools and hospitals. They illustrated this feeling, in addition to labor strikes and general unrest targeted towards specific issues, because they wanted to see change. They wanted to make a difference. When Brazil was preparing for its game against Chile in the World Cup, the rioting had silenced as the population came together through their love of soccer and pride in their team. The government actually conceded to some of these demands in fear it would blight their image for not only the World Cup, but the Olympic games. Although, the citizens have been chided internationally for giving way because their passion for soccer overrules their reason, this abdication can be viewed in a different light. If Brazil is to become a true democracy, are the machinations at work? Brazilians are finally fighting for their rights and civil liberties rather than just taking it on the chin. In a nation with a long and deep history of slavery, could this not be step in a positive direction? One of freedom? It is quite possible Brazil’s hosting of the Olympic games and the World Cup, the only nation to do both so closely together, could very well be the impetus that creates true democracy in that country over the coming decades.
Zirin, David. Brazil’s Dance With the Devil: The World Cup, The Olympics and The Fight
For Democracy. Haymarket Books. May 2014. Print.
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