Boima’s Rio World Cup Diary: FIFA Standards

Day nine of our Rio correspondent's World Cup diary wonders who the tournament is for and what the protesters demand.

A still unfinished World Cup stadium in Rio de Janeiro.

A four day national holiday here in Brazil that kicked off the World Cup, ended on Monday, so the city has been attempting to return to somewhat of its normal routine. Brazilians have gone back to work, and over the past few days in Copacabana and Ipanema, we’ve seen a transition of fans, from a flood of Argentinians to a flood of Chileans. If the crowds in Rio are anything to go by this Cup definitely belongs to Latin America. Mexico, Colombia, Chile, and Argentina have all made their presence felt on the pitch, in the stands and on the streets. I find myself speaking Spanish on the streets here, much more than ever before.

Rio has also hosted the first two of its seven matches, as the famous Maracanã stadium opened its doors to the Cup on Sunday. I was lucky enough to get tickets to see Argentina vs. Bosnia-Herzegovina play their first round opener. It was the first real international football match I’d ever attended, and it was quite an experience to see it amongst the throng of Argentinians. I’ve always heard the saying “football is a religion” but never really understood the levels of spiritual devotion that members of the Church of Maradona have. They sang and shook the stadium the entire match like they were being possessed by some kind of football holy spirit. When their Messi-ah scored they hailed their hands to him en masse. When someone from another church challenged the dominance of their very vocal prayers, the response would be swift and even sometimes physical (and apparently sometimes racist!?) I saw several Brazilians, sometimes in Bosnia-Herzegovina jerseys, get escorted out of a section after getting physical with riotous Argentina fans — it seemed like the security came to rescue them for their own safety more than anything else. Beyond those scuffles between perennial rivals, and a few rolled eyes when groups of singing and jumping Argentinians packed into public transportation (they altered their famous cheer against England to say “el que no salta es de BRAZIL!”), I get the sense the Brazilians have been nothing but gracious hosts to the many visitors from around the world. However, the overall impact of the visitors on locals is different depending on where you are in the city.

“Padrão FIFA” or “FIFA standards” is a phrase that has been appropriated by Brazilian protesters to inventively sum up their demands from the government, flipping to say they want FIFA standard hospitals and schools as well as the stadiums they received (several of which won’t really be used after the tournament ends.) Padrão FIFA conveniently merged with an already existing slang here, “padrão gringo” previously used to explain the so-called superior quality of work and products (especially technology) coming from Europe and North America. The appropriation of the word isn’t always negative. There’s a playful Forro song using the phrase, saying my style of singing is of a FIFA standard which is quite funny. But for the purpose of the World Cup in Rio, the phrase perfectly illustrates the consequences of a neoliberal development model, as the FIFA standard clearly extends beyond the stadium to reflect on the different parts of the city.

Rio is a giant city broken up into hundreds of neighborhoods. The places you feel the direct impact of the Cup, the feel of the above picture, are the ones that received padrão FIFA upgrades or already contained tourist infrastructure. On public transportation, on beaches, and in restaurants and bars is where you run into a diverse international cast of festive visitors. And it’s not like the average football fans are the global elite that you might picture when thinking of the neoliberal model of development. The global elite are definitely here, but they tend to remain in untouchable and invisible spaces. The spaces where you see average fans are often the ones that average Brazilians have to share with the visitors—spaces that control daily life in the city. These spaces are also highly regulated. Signs with arrows, painted with names of places like Maracanã, Copacabana, and Leblon shuffle tourists between high value zones, and keep them on track and away from places with names like Alemão, Maré, and Mangueira. For visitors, such space and infrastructure provide a convenient way to experience and move around the most important places in the city. Locals have to access or contest with such spaces for their daily movement in the city. [One interesting side-note: I’ve noticed that some of the “unruly” behavior of fans has caused even some Cup-supporting Brazilians to question the value of having a padrão FIFA. I’ve seen plenty of rough and tumble fans sleeping on the floors of the main regional bus station, yesterday Chilean fans crashed the gates at Maracanã, and one Brazilian woman commented to me with disgust that she saw Argentina fans sleeping in cars and bathing on the beach.]

The chief symbol of the conflict between padrão FIFA and the Brazilian standard in Rio has become the Maracanã stadium. The blog Rio on Watch has a great post running down its history as a national symbol in Brazil. Today, for many of the city’s most rabid football supporters, some of the most enthusiastic in the world, actually attending a Cup match in their own city remains a pipe dream (one Argentina fan told me, even for him it has always been a life-long dream to watch a match at Maracanã.) The famous stadium was upgraded to padrão FIFA or in the run up to the Cup, but in the process lowered the capacity from 200,000 to 70,000 spectators. With the resulting higher ticket price, and a new roof that blocks the view from surrounding favela covered hills, the temple of Brazilian soccer went from symbol of nationalist populism to a neoliberal temple of corporate consumerism.

When a group of protesters tried to break the ring of security around Maracanã on Sunday, they were teargassed. Apparently one overzealous military police even fired off some live ammunition amidst the crowd.

So when we ask, “who is this Cup for?” In Rio, the answer to that question has become clear. This cup is for Zona Sul, Maracanã, and all the arteries that connect these high value areas. And you can’t help but get swept up in the excitement when you’re in these spaces with such a festive carnival-like atmosphere. The exciting matches, and high level of play from the teams don’t hurt either. Anyone who passes in and out of that part of the city might tell you that they are definitely enjoying the international camaraderie, the boisterous fans, the party atmosphere. Service workers who commute from many neighborhoods: restaurant workers, tour guides, taxi drivers, all seem to be eating up the excitement — often asking who you’re cheering for. These will also be the workers who will benefit most from the city’s temporary economic boon.

However, in the midst of all this excitement it would be wise keep some perspective. Two hours before the opening kick off between Argentina and Bosnia-Herzegovina, only a few miles from Maracanã, and near the new Bus Rapid Transit — the Pacification Police (the force created to control favelas during the Cup and the Olympics) in Cidade de Deus carried out an action against some local drug dealers. A 12 year-old boy was killed by a stray bullet during the confrontation. The morning before the Brazilian national team played, neighbors and activists from across the city staged a march for the boy’s funeral and shut down most of the traffic in that part of the city. Partying visitors in Zona Sul would have been oblivious to all of this, and the fact that public safety for residents in communities like Cidade de Deus isn’t yet up to the padrão FIFA.

Further Reading

Edson in Accra

It happened in 1969. But just how did he world’s greatest, richest and most sought-after footballer at the time, end up in Ghana?

The dreamer

As Africa’s first filmmakers made their unique steps in Africanizing cinema, few were as bold as Djibril Diop Mambéty who employed cinema to service his dreams.

Socialismo pink

A solidariedade socialista na Angola e Moçambique pós-coloniais tornou as pessoas queer invisíveis. Revisitar esse apagamento nos ajuda a reinventar a libertação de forma legítima.