“Unbelievable, Geoff!” So much has happened in the world of football since my last blog that I literally do not know where to begin, and I’m not even talking about NUFC! Yes, we’ve won at The Death Star™, yes Williamson’s been mint, and yes we’ve scored from a corner and all the rest of it, but my head’s been spinning with the goings on within Brazil over last few weeks. Every time I thought I had a topic for this drivel something new has happened to blow my plans out of the window.
With so much to write about I’ve decided to ignore my allotted word count, so get the kettle on, hoy your feet up and settle in for a Bumper Christmas Special of the latest Heed-The-Baal gannin’s on in the land of Futebol, Praias e Samba!
Where to begin, then? Well, this blog was going to be about the World Cup stadiums, but as I started researching them, disaster struck in São Paulo. A crane carrying the final piece of the Arena Corinthians (a controversial project in its own right) collapsed, damaging the structure and killing two workers. This made headlines around the world, sadly not so much for the loss of life and the devastation wreaked on two families, but for being (another) “Blow for the tournament”. In fact, as I am typing this another death has been reported from the Arena Amazônia in Manaus; a worker has plunged to his death from the roof of the stadium which will hold England’s first game v Italy.
I think that this (not forgetting the slave workers trapped in Qatar to ensure we all get our 4-yearly fix) begs the question, “Is it really worth it?” I mean, it’s a football competition. That’s all. Yet the Brazilian population have been appalled by the spiralling costs of the tournament, without it bringing any improvements to their lives – improvements that they had been promised. I moved here in 2010 expecting to see these improvements to Rio and Brazil; infrastructure upgrades that the country is crying out for are desperately needed in order to deliver a successful tournament, and yet we have seen nothing. Rio’s Metro system is slowly being expanded, but the deadlines have been extended far beyond next year, we are now promised that the improvements will be completed in time for the Olympics in 2016. The same is true of the airports – Rio’s airport is shocking; it’s small, outdated and crumbling, yet a news release last month tells us that it is only now receiving R$9b for an upgrade, again, to be completed in time for the Olympics. Other than that, we have a new ‘Rapid Bus Transport’ system being implemented, but this is solely in the West of the city – the area which will host the the Olympic Games!
And yet, throughout the whole countdown to the competition, the country has constantly been left feeling patronised by FIFA, and by Jerome Valcke, the Secretary General, in particular. Relations between Valcke and the CBF turned so sour that a mass PR campaign had to be undertaken to ease tensions. Now Valcke had a point (as has been proven), Brazil was painfully slow in getting out of the blocks and all the dallying and postponing has seriously damaged the prospects of the tournament being as successful (off the pitch) as it should have been. And if you bear in mind that it was common knowledge that Brazil would be the hosts back in 2003, four years before being officially granted the tournament, you have to wonder how they are in the mess that they find themselves in. I don’t want to go too deeply into it, but let’s say that political will (or lack of it) was a major factor – why would a mayor/governor start making movements to ensure a great tournament is held in his city or state when it would be a new mayor/governor who reaps the praise and benefits?
The poor, long-suffering population have had to watch their own politicians make a ham-fisted attempt at organising possibly the most prestigious tournament in the world, while at the same time some FIFA bigwig is giving them shit for not having ‘FIFA Standard’ stadiums, ‘FIFA Standard’ seats, ‘FIFA Standard’ infrastructure, ‘FIFA Standard’ airports, ‘FIFA Standard’ this and ‘FIFA standard’ that. I mean, what is ‘FIFA Standard’ anyway? Bent? If that’s the case, Brazil certainly has ‘FIFA Standard’ politicians (I know, Ed – ‘In my opinion’!) And while all this toing and froing is being played out in front of the world’s press, behind the cameras the costs have been rocketing out of control, lining some pretty deep pockets in the process, no doubt.
The original cost of the WC was supposed to not exceed £600m, but it has already cost more than £2.4 BILLION, with more costs being incurred on a daily basis.
To exacerbate the depth of feeling, this is happening in a country with a wildly unbalanced wealth distribution factor. The ‘have nots’ literally have not. With the state of the current two tier education system (ensuring those able to afford private schools can progress to university and decent lives while those dependent on the State schools can look forward to careers such as shop assistants, doormen, or hairdressers) and the pitiful standards of public health, where patients simply die in queues waiting to be seen, is it any wonder that protestors are haranguing the CBF, the Government and FIFA for ‘FIFA Standard Schools’ and ‘FIFA Standard Hospitals’? Of course it isn’t, yet just imagine how many schools and hospitals that that excess £1.8b could have built for the greater good…
With 6 of the stadiums still behind schedule, some of which admitting they will not make their deadlines, or even be ready for the tournament itself, the optimist in me has finally taken a beating. I now concede that the wheels have firmly fallen off and I am seriously concerned about what kind of tournament Brazil is going to be able to deliver, but more importantly, the more I think about it, the more I share the anger and frustrations of the Brazilian people.
I never thought that Brazil would ever fall out with football, but it has, and I think that the relationship with the sport, certainly with FIFA, may be irreparable.
Aah, what am I talking about? It’s going to be mint, man!
I got a little excited when I watched the draw (and not just over Fernanda Lima either. As Brazilians say, “Ela é uma gatinha mesmo, irmão!) Although we really wanted to avoid Manaus, Manaus we got. In the end, though, I have to say that the draw was favourable to England and their fans. Yes, Manaus will be a bugger to get to, slapped, as it is, in the heat of the Amazon Rainforest, but while our opponents, Italy, then head off for the dreaded humidity of the North East, England fly south to their Rio base to prepare for their final group games in the moderate, temperate climates of Belo Horizonte and São Paulo.
It’s as good a draw as we could have gotten, I think. The fans can stay in Rio and travel by air or bus to these last two group games. Last year I’d have told you that I’d love to watch England play in Manaus (it’s a city I’m as keen as mustard to visit) but I think I’ll save my coppers for a trip to one of the latter group games instead.
Brazil has a massively rich and diverse music tradition. We all know about Samba and Bossa Nova, but the country has also spawned wide ranging genres such as Forró, Manguebeat and Frevo, as well as having a strong Country tradition. And yet the organisers have decided to spurn the country’s own rich soundtrack for the World Cup song, instead inviting spotty teenagers the world over to pen their own drivel, the winning offering to be chosen by Puerto Rico’s very own Ricky Martin. Seriously? You’re fucking kidding me, right? We’re talking about the country that gave the world the greatest football anthem ever recorded – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9U1v01SGtGE (If anyone leaves a comment asking if that’s a cover of The Black Eyed Peas, words will have to be had!)
The domestic game has come to a close. Well, it has but it hasn’t…
At the top of the table Cruzeiro strolled to the title, Grêmio were runners up, Atlético Paranaense grabbed third spot while Botafogo earned an excellent 4th place finish. These 4 clubs have all qualified for next years Libertadores, and I’m really happy for Seedorf and his Botafogo team. The other Brazilian representatives will be current Libertadores champions, Atlético Mineiro and possibly Flamengo, the current Copa do Brasil holders.
It’s still ‘possibly’ Flamengo, because in true Brazilian footballing tradition, we have a bit of a controversy on our hands, and it began with Fluminense…
In my last blog I mentioned that two Carioca teams were facing the drop, and indeed on the last day of the season, reigning champions, Fluminense along with Vasco da Gama joined Ponte Preta and Nautico in the drop to Série B.
As a point of interest, this was the first time in Brazilian history that the reigning champions were relegated.
But then an irregularity was noticed. A tiny club from São Paulo state, Portuguesa, had defied all odds and guaranteed their safety with a game to spare. Their final game against Grêmio was, in all but name, a friendly – Grêmio had already secured 2nd spot, neither team had anything else to play for. With 15 minutes remaining, Portuguesa brought on the Portuguese player, Héverton. Unfortunately, the player had been yellow carded in a previous game and was suspended for this tie. As with all sporting disputes in Brazil, the case went to the Justica do Esportes (the Sports Tribunal) where Portuguesa’s punishment was confirmed; the loss of the point earned for the draw versus Grêmio plus an additional 3 point deduction. These 4 points have cost Portuguesa their Série A status and saved Fluminense of the ignominy of being the first champions to be relegated. I doubt this will be the end of the story, though, expect appeal after appeal. This one will run.
Of course Portuguesa will argue that had the giants, Fluminense, committed such a frivolous administrative error no such punishment would have been dished out. Maybe so, who knows? What makes this particular pill slightly more bitter to swallow is the fact that Flu have got form. Flu ‘did a Leeds’ back in the late 90’s, tumbling down to the 3rd tier, Série C. They managed to pull themselves together and won the 3rd division in 1999, but a change to the restructuring of the leagues in 2000 meant Flu leapt straight back to the Série A (don’t ask me to explain – I have no idea). Of course this looked like favouritism to one of the country’s, and so too does the latest decision to allow them to remain in the top flight on a technicality.
How does this relate to Flamengo? Because Fla managed to win the Copa do Brasil, but they too had committed the same administrative error as poor Portuguesa. But as a trophy was won which resulted in qualification to South America’s premium footballing competition, the stakes are higher and the deliberations are still ongoing. Let’s wait and see… Of course, should Fla be awarded leniency, Portuguesa will be well within their rights to scream blue murder.
I’m sorry for the mental long ramble, but I really wanted to share what has been going on on this side of the Atlantic.
From Papai Noel and me, enjoying a very summery Christmas in Brazil – FELIZ NATAL, E UM PRÓSPERO ANO NOVO!