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The Tawdry Jamboree

‘Joy in Brazil as World Cup Opens’

‘Riots in Brazil as World Cup Opens’

Such headlines – or variations on them – appeared in British newspapers yesterday, usually side–by-side.  And no doubt there will be yet more joy and yet more riots in Brazil as FIFA’s grossly inflated, irresponsible, self-aggrandizing jamboree rolls on to its conclusion. 

This, we must all hope, for reasons entirely unrelated to national pride, will be a victory for the host team.  Joy may then overwhelm, or supplant, the violence in the streets.  If, on the other hand, Brazil is knocked out, I fear the reverse may be the case.

The rioters have more of a point to make than the revellers.  Brazil’s economy is in poor shape.  For all its potential as a world economic power Brazil is still a poor country.  Sao Paulo is said to have worse slums than the poorest cities in India.  I have never been there, so I can only believe what the media report, but I have to say that the pictorial evidence looks compelling.   

The government has chosen to invest billions of dollars not in slum clearance and social infrastructure but in staging the world’s biggest sporting tournaments, the football World Cup this year and the Olympics in three years time.  These will bring great wealth to the country, or so the government insists.  But all governments say that.  History suggests that nothing is further from the truth than the notion of a great golden goose always leaving behind a large golden egg.  What the golden goose usually leaves behind is a soiled, uninhabitable nest. 

Most host cities in recent times have been left with Olympic sites which, far from being adapted to use by the people, have been allowed to fall into dereliction.  London claims it may be the first exception to that rule.  We shall see.

And so, when FIFA’s tawdry show is over, Sepp Blatter and his fat-cat, pocket-picking cronies will board their planes home to cash in their winnings – as they did after the last tournament in South Africa – leaving the Brazilian government wondering – like the South African government before it – how to pay off the debt.  Well, we all know how that is usually resolved. 

And in Sao Paulo, the angry slum-dwellers will have every right to be even angrier slum-dwellers.  The football stadia will remain, of course, but slum-dwellers can’t live in football stadia. 

These sporting events are already out of hand financially and every other wise and the momentum can’t be stopped.  Each successive jamboree has to out-do the previous one in terms of showing off, which also means in terms of expense.  And beneath all the razzamatazz, the desperate absurdity of opening ceremonies led by Jennifer Lopez – under-dressed but arguably over-rated and inarguably over-paid – tawdry is the first pejorative that comes to mind, among a host of others. 

Even the football takes a seat on the bench.  As I write, the authorities are struggling to make the stadia ready for matches scheduled to be played within days.  For the England-Italy fixture on Saturday, groundskeepers are still trying to figure out how to make the grass grow.  I heard somewhere that they may have to resort to painting the brown bits green.

There are other brown bits that ought to be painted green – the green of billions of dollars going into alleviating the plight of Brazil’s dispossessed poor.  Fat chance when the fat cats are still around.  

And then the circus will move on to Qatar, about which, after last week’s revelations, there is nothing left to be said.

For now, anyway.

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