Saturday, January 11, 2014

Brazil's World Cup

The first time I really watched a World Cup was, like a lot of other Americans, in 1994 when the US hosted the tournament for the first time. Since then I've been an avid watcher, not just because it's an extraordinary sporting event worth watching in its own right, but because the international and national politics of football are remarkable.

The upcoming tournament this year in Brazil is no exception. For fans, the draw itself is a moment of great intrigue. Which matchups will be the toughest? Who is in the Group of Death? The Guardian has the answers in this handy interactive on the 32 teams. Still, based on the events of the past year, politics may have trumped football. Football, as everyone knows, has always been regarded a divine pursuit in Brazil, a national obsession, so it is no surprise that Brazilians madly celebrated their successful host bid. More surprising has been the protests of Brazilians that erupted in June last summer challenging the excess, waste, and corruption of World Cup (and 2016 Olympic) preparations. Beset by delays and setbacks, Brazil is in jeopardy of being unprepared to host the Cup. As embarrassing as that would be, however, the protesters have deeper concerns about the capital being poured into this project, money that isn't going into schools, hospitals, or state infrastructure. Even footballers themselves are getting political, although with a slightly different agenda: the exploitation of players by owners.

These protests are especially interesting to observe because this year is an election year, with Brazil's embattled incumbent Dilma Rousseff, the nation's first woman president, campaigning for reelection. She has been forced into a defensive posture on a number of issues, including the World Cup itself. Just a few days ago, she had to issue a statement assuring a world of doubters that the nation would be ready on schedule.

But the most unlikely detail in this saga of sport and politics is Romário de Souza Faria, a football legend in his own right and now a politician in the National Congress of Brazil as part of the Brazilian Socialist Party. I remember Romario as the star of the 1994 Brazilian National Team that won the World Cup, defeating Italy in the final in a penalty shootout. He was the player who fed the other Brazilian star of that squad, Bebeto, for the only goal in Brazil's defeat of the US team, in what was an inspired performance of the underdog host against an international powerhouse. Take a look:

Now the two former star players are political opponents. Bebeto is a spokesman on behalf of Brazil's World Cup organizing committee. Romario, known when he was a player for his extravagant, self-indulgent lifestyle, has become a populist, demanding social change and a curb on corruption. He has unceasingly criticized Brazil's World Cup preparations for its waste and graft, and the opportunities missed to divert that money to Brazil's lower classes. As he explained in an interview:
Nobody tells me to close my mouth because they know it will never happen. When I was a player, I was an idol. People saw me as one of the best ever. I was able to get to the top. I was able to be the best in the world at a certain time. In politics, I don’t think I’ll be the best politician in the world. But I know I won’t be quiet, either.

1 comment:

  1. The no.1Brazil kit is not to be cast aside I hope. This world cup may have a lot to answer for.