There has been a lot of negativity in the press reports coming out about Brazil in the weeks and months before the World Cup opens there next month. The negativity has focused on street protests and construction problems in infrastructure.
Personally, I am inclined to think the negative press is being orchestrated from Washington, because Brazil has become the second largest economy in the Western Hemisphere, because the Brazilian president is a former left-wing guerrilla – Dilma Rousseff, and because Brazil has supported the democratically-elected Venezuelan governments of the late Hugo Chavez and now Nicolás Maduro.
South American Brazil has a larger black population than any African country except Nigeria. They speak Portuguese in Brazil, because when the Pope of Rome divided the “New World” between Spain and Portugal in 1494, Brazil was to the eastern side of the Pope’s imaginary line. Everything west of that line became Spain’s. The indigenous people who lived in these territories did not count as human beings: the Treaty of Tordesillas was European imperialism at its most arrogant.
Brazil first came to my generation’s attention in British Honduras in 1958 when Brazil beat the host country, Sweden, to win the World Cup for the first time. Brazil had hosted the World Cup in 1950, but had experienced national heartbreak when Uruguay beat them in the finals, 2-1. In British Honduras, we had known nothing of 1950.
Palace Theater was the center of Southside Belize City’s entertainment world in 1958. Palace used to show cartoons, world news documentaries, and “previews of coming attractions” before the real movie began. These world news documentaries were brief, but sometimes they were very, very exciting for us British Hondurans. In 1958, you see, we had no television and only one government monopoly government radio station, which only aired BBC and Voice of America news. It was as if we were cut off from the outside world. The news documentary on Brazil’s World Cup victory of 1958 sparked wild excitement in Palace Theater crowds. The 17-year-old Brazilian hero, Pele, was unquestionably black, and his right wing superstar teammate, Garrincha, was definitely not white. Pele and Garrincha actually looked like us. How sweet it was!
The dread reality is that Brazil is a racist country, where blacks struggle at the bottom of the economic totem pole, but because of World Cup 1958 and Pele and Garrincha, Belizeans generally have supported Brazil in the World Cup ever since then, partly because we believed that it was a land of racial equality. That is not true.
Moving on. On Monday evening my dad and I were talking about the fact that Italy is run according to the political system of proportional representation. My dad’s impression was that Italy is not as successful as those European countries which do not have proportional representation. I said to him that one of the yardsticks by which I measure countries is their national football selections and their World Cup performances. Because I have seen that Italy always features a superb selection and is always a primary force to reckon with in the World Cup, I believe that their system of government must be working for them. The same applies, in perhaps greater measure, to Germany. My yardstick, needless to say, is not a scientific one.
Nigeria’s may be the most powerful economy in Africa, but you cannot depend on the Nigerians to produce the quality of national selections that they should. That is because Nigeria is afflicted with serious corruption in its socio-economics, and where there is corruption and excessive government power, friendship and favoritism poison the process of appointments in every aspect of life. Even though FIFA, the world governing body of football, is totally opposed to political interference in football at the nation-state level, my personal feeling is that it happens a lot, political interference in football, in the member countries of what we call the Third World.
A few years ago the United States chose a former German superstar striker, Jurgen Klinsmann, to coach their national selection. For decades the Americans ignored our “soccer,” as they refer to “the beautiful game” we play in the rest of the world, because they have a game they refer to as football, even though they use their hands in American football more than they use their feet. American football is quite different from “soccer,” but the Americans love their NFL (National Football League). The Americans used to mock, many of them still do, the rest of the world’s football in various ways. They could afford to do this, because after all, America is America. They rule the world. In any case, this has changed. The United States want to be a powerhouse at the World Cup. In fact, they have already become champions in the women’s version of the World Cup. So, they rolled the dice and brought in Klinsmann.
A few days ago Klinsmann chose his final 23-man roster for the 2014 Copa Mundial. He left off Landon Donovan, the 32-year-old who has been considered the best American player for more than a decade. It was a very daring move by Klinsmann. The safe thing would have been to stay with Donovan. Because of his manifest courage, my respect for Jurgen has skyrocketed, and I wish him the best.
In ending this World Cup column, I choose the tragic story of the Colombian defender, Andrés Escobar, during the time of Pablo Escobar, Colombia’s cocaine kingpin. Colombia played the United States in the World Cup when the U.S. hosted the tournament twenty years ago. This Colombian defender scored an auto-goal which caused his team to lose 3-2, to the United States. When he returned to Colombia, the cocaine cartel shot him dead.
The World Cup is not a sport. It is simulated war. The World Cup is politics and billion dollar financing. Sometimes, the World Cup is actually life and death. Do not take the World Cup lightly. After Brazil 2014, many people’s lives will never again be the same.
Power to the people.