Jason Huettner

As the World Cup presses on, the Verso Books blog features a critique of the games, recognizing the wave of demonstrations and labor actions that have taken place on the streets of Rio.

The Sao Paulo transportation workers' strike that preceded the opening game, the fierce activist clashes with police, and late May occupations in Rio outside stadiums have marred the tournament and shed light on urban injustices in Brazil. In a country where soccer is consumed with an almost religious fervor, demonstrators have protested the indulgent spending on stadiums, demanded "FIFA standard" wages, schools, and hospitals, and decried the forced evictions of thousands of favelados in Rio. Even Pele, the Brazilian soccer superstar known for his conservatism, criticized spending. Over $11 billion has been invested in infrastructure to support the games while schools and housing projects are underfunded. Morar Carioca, the official government policy of favela "integration" executed in advance of the World Cup and forthcoming Olympic Games, resulted in the violent displacement of some of Rio's poorest. Favela do Metro, the impoverished zone closest to the World Cup stadium, underwent a systematic dismantling starting in 2011.

Like London's "Olympic legacy," the energy behind the games in Brazil at the governmental level is aimed at redevelopment and neoliberal transformation. Justin McGuirk, speaking to the centrality and adaptability of Rio's favelas in Radical Cities: Across Latin America in Search of New Architecture, notes that "the favelas may not be modernism but they are the byproduct of modernity. In their spontaneity, energy and resourcefulness, they represent an aspect of urbanity that is only now coming to be appreciated. And in its varied approaches to tackling urban poverty, Rio has been a laboratory unlike any other in Latin America. Most of those approaches have failed but, in the failures and the successes alike, there are lessons that cities across the developing world could learn." 

Marc Perelman, author of Barbaric Sport: A Global Plague, a takedown of the sporting industry and its often oppressive relationship to global capitalism, has called for a boycott to the games and highlights Brazilian frustration with the passage of the "Lei Geral da Copa." The "General World Cup Law" has a litany of provisions including bank holidays, an increased price structure for admittance to the games, stiff penalties for protest and defacement of FIFA imagery, and tax exemptions for FIFA and its sponsors, most notably Budweiser, who are able to sell drinks at the games despite an earlier 2003 public health law banning the sale of beer at sporting events. This year's World Cup would have brought an estimated $250 million in tax revenue that, protestors argue, could have been invested in transportation, improved housing, and education. The FIFA leadership, essentially a foreign board of unelected elites based in Switzerland, has found a good bedfellow in the Brazilian government and profits massively as they continue to masquerade as an NGO. Perelman states:

The leading members of its executive committee make more than a million euros a year per head – and these people’s attitude towards the Brazilians is nothing but a series of humiliating demands. They order the Brazilians to ‘kick some arses into gear’ on the stadium building sites; they openly say that they prefer organising competitions with dictatorships rather than with democracies, while Sepp Blatter deplores the World Cup being ‘politicised’ (the trailer for the World Cup on the Qatari TV network Beln Sports is clear, though plenty subtle: ‘forget politics’). In sum, the ‘thinking’ heads at FIFA and its henchmen would like to bring the Brazilian population to heel with the support of the government, under the regime of football – which has itself become a genuine political power.

What is the legitimacy of these unelected individuals, co-opted onto committees at assemblies held in closed rooms and managed in a totally opaque fashion? What is the legitimacy of FIFA, led by an executive of 25 businessmen (and not one of them is a woman) imposing its vision of the world on an entire people? How can FIFA substitute itself for the elected and representative structures of Brazil?

There is further doubt surrounding the FIFA decision to hold the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Hundreds of workers have died at various construction sites inside of the country as it prepares for the upcoming games. A recent report published by The International Trade Union Confederation outlines abuses of migrant workers working on FIFA infrastructure under the Qatar's kafala system. The report defines kafala as a system in which "employers enjoy near total control over the movement of workers in their employ, including over their ability to reside in Qatar, to change jobs or even to leave the country. Workers under such control are often afraid to report abuses or assert their rights for fear of retaliation, which further contributes to their situation in forced labour." So far, FIFA has elected not to take any direct role in remedying the situation and maintained that the Qatari state bears total responsibility for the safety of its workers. 

Jason Huettner is a Blogs Editor for Warscapes.

Image via Marxist.