For weeks, Brazil has been the host of one of the most prominent mega-events in sports. The World Cup has been dazzling and inspiring at times, as the unexpected has happened. Yet, off the pitch, there have been armed Brazilian police firing tear gas at protesters as they fight to prevent dissent from becoming visible while the world’s eyes are on Brazil.
Occasionally, the corruption surrounding FIFA and the impact of Brazil building stadiums for this event on the people of Brazil and other issues arising from hosting the World Cup have garnered attention (for example, “Last Week Tonight” with John Oliver on HBO). That is largely due to the groups in Brazil that chose to stand up and fight the agenda being imposed upon them by FIFA and the Brazilian government.
Dave Zirin, sports correspondent for The Nation and author of Brazil’s Dance with the Devil, has been writing dispatches on the World Cup. He traveled to Brazil to cover the World Cup when it first began in June. And he is this week’s guest on the “Unauthorized Disclosure” podcast, which I host with Rania Khalek.
Following his interview in which we go into great detail on this research, we discuss child refugees crossing the US-Mexico border, the Justice Department’s decision to finally drop charges against Sami al-Arian and developments with Israel, particularly those related to the murder of a Palestinian teen.
The podcast is available on iTunes for download. For a direct link (and direct download), go here. And, below is a player for listening to the podcast without getting it from iTunes:
Zirin addresses a question that seems to come up often among liberals or lefties who watch the sport: why bother to watch the World Cup, especially when it is used to exploit and take advantage of the people?
“It’s almost like saying why bother to breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide. It’s a little bit difficult to avoid,” Zirin answers. “I mean, the real elephant in the room is how are you going to function the next couple of weeks without it?”
Also, “whether there have been protests going on in Brazil or not, there are always and always have been political angles to the World Cup dating back to when Mussolini was staging in the 1930s and threatening his own players with immediate execution if they didn’t win.” Plus, “I really do think objectively soccer at its best is beautiful. Maybe it’s not everyone’s cup of tea but I do think that if people try to engage with it at the very minimum you can understand why so many other people find it to be so beautiful.”
“We shouldn’t be alienated from art. We should try to engage with it even with all its contradictions to understand what’s so beautiful about it,” Zirin suggests. “Then, lastly, it just seems like the World Cup is really pissing Ann Coulter off. Anything that does that is frankly worth investigation.”
There is no “formal call to boycott” from organizations, unions, the homeless or peasant workers groups in Brazil that have been protesting the World Cup.
“Nobody inside of Brazil is asking for an international boycott, and I think that’s very important particularly for those of us in the global north, the United States what have you, who are thinking about solidarity to remember that those calls need to come from the people who are the most affected.”
Additionally, how do the elites in these countries use these mega-events or take advantage of this moment? The phrase that Zirin likes to use is “neoliberal trojan horse” and “sporting shock doctrine.”
“The basic point of it is that events like the World Cup and Olympics allow states to push through agendas that people would otherwise protest or object to but they’re able to do so under the cloak of these mega-events,” Zirin argues. “And the sporting shock doctrine is like, instead of people being paralyzed by trauma, which is what Naomi Klein writes about, instead it’s people more paralyzed by the prospect of hosting these events and the responsibilities that go into it and the lies frankly that go into the selling of it to the people like, oh, this is going to greatly expand our tourist economy and turn us into the pinnacle of the world.”
Zirin explains, “Some of the things that the neoliberal trojan horse brings into a country are things like the creeping surveillance state, the normalization of drones flying overhead, the expansion of gentrification in the cities, the growth of real estate speculation and the expansion of the tourist industry as well, which I would argue generally is very negative for workers because it tends to be seasonal work. It tends to be very low wage and it tends to really depend on the kindness of tourists, which doesn’t put the workers in a tremendous position of power. So, this is all what goes in to these mega-events.”
But, for the first time there were massive demonstrations from Brazilians in advance of this mega-event. Knowing that there would be large protests in and around the World Cup, Brazil’s militarized police forces were deployed on the ground. Brazil bought drones from a company in Israel called Rafael. The country enlisted another Israeli company, Elbit, to do crowd surveillance. Zirin calls this the “exporting” of Gaza.
He tells a story from when he was in Brazil about what he witnessed at a protest that was supposed to be held on the opening night in Rio de Janeiro. There is an “exclusion zone” around the Maracanas Stadium. The goal was to march on the “exclusion zone” basically and try to get through. To get to the public square where the demonstration was to begin, demonstrators had to physically work the way between a line of armed police officers.
“They weren’t like a picket. They weren’t trying to stop you from getting in, but you had to effectively sort of turn your body to the side and insinuate, even muscle your way through them just to get to the square for the gathering of the protest,” Zirin recounts. “Now think about what that might do to people who might be casual protesters or new to the protest movement.”
The military shot tear gas. The protesters, along with Zirin, were hit with significant amounts of tear gas. The tear gas also misfired and blew into the faces of tourists, and later the Associated Press reported that the police had fired live ammunition.