DC at Night

DC at Night

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Brazil's Dance with the Devil: Love of Soccer Battles Sports Greed

Today, activist sports writer Dave Zirin is in Brazil covering the biggest sports story in the world - soccer's World Cup. But 3 days ago, he was here in DC talking about his new book, Brazil's Dance with the Devil: The World Cup, the Olympics, and the Fight for Democracy with a standing-room only crowd of fellow social advocates at Busboys and Poets.

For more than a year, Brazilians, who as a nation consider soccer a veritable religion, have been protesting the staging of the World Cup by FIFA, the event's organizer, and a too-compliant government, claiming the combination is responsible for financial waste and corruption that is jeopardizing the country's educational, health, and housing services.

Dave Zirin signs books after his talk
"People are protesting soccer in Brazil. In Brazil, soccer is a religion. Imagine a protest in New York City against pizza," Zirin said. "Polls show that 55% of Brazil wants its team to lose. FIFA is as popular as FEMA was in New Orleans after Katrina."

Zirin, who has been covering the Olympics and World Cups for more than a decade, says "the waste and carnage" of such events is mind-boggling. For example, winter events have paid millions to fly snow to mountains. The cost of the recent corruption-filled Winter Olympics in Sochi has exceed $9 billion dollars.

The sports writer often quotes his friend, former Olympian and 1968 Mexico City protester John Carlos, who says the Olympics are only held every 4 years because "it takes them 4 years to count the money."

"It's not that there's no money, it's a question of who gets the money," Zirin said. That controversy is particularly acute in Brazil since the country will also be hosting the Olympics in 2 years.

Here are just some of the statistics for the 2014 World Cup. It is expected to cost more than $15 billion to put on. FIFA required that brand new stadiums be built, many with luxury boxes for only the richest fans. One stadium, constructed in the Amazon Rainforest, has not yet been completed and is rumored to be used as an outdoor prison center after the games are completed. More than 250,000 Brazilians have been displaced from their homes. The government has mobilized more troops for the event than America deployed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"This is all satire so dark that Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert wouldn't have dared to cover it," Zirin said.

But many in Brazil have been striking back, taking to the streets and staging protest strikes. "They are saying we want FIFA quality wages, we want FIFA quality schools, we want FIFA quality hospitals," Zirin said.

The situation is heightened because of Brazil's long history with European colonialism, slavery, and racial and economic inequality.  "They do not want their soccer to become just another commodity for foreign consumption," Zirin said.

The sports writer maintains that Americans should be following the Brazilian happenings as the country's people take on authoritarian power, corporate greed, and political cronyism and corruption. "All that is what makes Brazil our story, too," Zirin maintains.

Zirin believes that the Brazilian actions may be the beginning of a world-wide movement to curb the excesses and abuses of giant sporting competitions. "I see a renaissance of revolution against these sports organizations that act like Mafia cartels for their own personal enrichment," Zirn said.

And while that may or may not be true, it is certain that with soccer's enormous popularity, the whole world will be watching what happens both on and off the field in Brazil for the next 4 weeks.

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