It’s no secret that humans want to put their “best foot forward” when guests and new people are around. You clean your house, you put on makeup and you dress in your best clothes. However, countries that host the World Cup and the Olympics have taken that concept to its illogical extreme.
Add a touch of laissez-faire, neoliberal economic policies and you have a recipe for disaster for the middle class, working class and poor people. That’s what’s currently happening in Brazil with the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. That’s what Dave Zirin chronicles in “Brazil’s Dance With the Devil: The World Cup, the Olympics and the Fight for Democracy.”
Zirin states early on in his latest release that one book can’t capture the complete history of Brazil and its politics, so he gives a quick overview of the country’s history (politically, socially, culturally and racially) before focusing his ire on the Federation Internationale de Football Association and the International Olympic Committee. Zirin reminds the reader of this with Qatar being recently awarded the 2022 World Cup, despite the country’s weather not being conducive to soccer matches.
Brazil—with an abundance of stadiums available in which to play matches—had venues ready, but FIFA President Sepp Blatter (per FIFA’s policy) demanded that “FIFA-quality stadiums” be constructed or completely renovated out of existing stadiums to hold the World Cup.
“FIFA quality” means luxury boxes. “FIFA quality” means new stadiums.” “FIFA quality” means new parking lots. It also means spending government money to help private entities make profits—money needed for things like health care and education. Most of these stadiums will be empty after the World Cup ends, and private corporations will have pocketed the profits.
Needless to say, this book is the “Shock Doctrine” of sports, and Zirin makes that connection by quoting Naomi Klein in his work.
Being a critical of neoliberalism didn’t make him any friends at publications like the Economist, which all but panned his book, but that might have more to do with Zirin criticizing publications like the Economist for cheering on policies he saw as detrimental to the Brazilian people.
To demonstrate what FIFA and the IOC have become, Zirin details the history of both organizations and how one was created with the best intentions (FIFA) and how one was corrupt from day one (IOC). With capitalism and power as the goal, both entities have been in bed with dictators and hosted these mega-events in countries with subpar human rights records and then told the opposition to not bring politics into a celebration of sports and the “human spirit.”
From the outside, one would think that a soccer-crazed nation like Brazil would welcome the World Cup with open arms, but through on-field reporting, Zirin reminds you that Brazilians don’t put sports before their rights. Brazil’s income inequality is almost unparalleled in the world. Ranking 121 out of 133 nations, Brazil is also home to significant amounts of corruption and bad infrastructure.
Zirin’s travels through the internationally known but highly stereotyped and widely misunderstood favelas of Brazil shed light on the communities that have been pushed to the side to make room for houses for the wealthy and all the luxuries that come with gentrification—even at the cost of potentially destroying a makeshift museum built around a mass grave of former slaves.
A year ago, activists, young and old, and working- and middle-class Brazilians took to the streets to protest government policies changing to honor FIFA’s demands; the razing of working-class neighborhoods to create stadiums, parking lots and luxury housing; and billions of dollars being spent on sports instead of public transportation and other social services. Those protests haven’t stopped, and Zirin’s short, quick but highly nutritious book is a great reminder that sometimes we have to pay attention to the man (or men) behind the curtain.