Monday, July 01, 2013

Picture This

It’s January in the South. Two teams are gearing up to play a professional football playoff game, the semi-finals. The winner gets bragging rights to be the conference champion. The host city spent billions in taxpayer dollars on a stadium to keep the team local. Worldwide television is covering the game, Tens of thousands of live spectators and millions around the globe are watching two of the premier American football teams square off.

Meanwhile, outside, the masses of poor residents gather. They have signs protesting the amount of money the city has spent on this spectacle, and how it could have been spent creating jobs, or feeding and housing the poor. The police move in. Teargas flies, some of it filters into the stands, causing spectators to choke.

It would never happen here. But it did happen in Rio de Janeiro last night:

Mood changes do not come much more dramatic than the shift within two hours and four blocks near the Maracanã stadium in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday night.

Inside that small window, one neighbourhood was choked with angry protests, clouds of teargas and volleys of rubber bullets, while a short walk away joyful crowds sang, danced and exploded in celebration at Brazil's victory in the Confederations Cup final.

It was an odd sensation strolling from one to the other, past recently fired cartridges and fallen placards to garage forecourt TV screens where locals and police stared up together at the events on the pitch, in reality only a stone's throw or two away.

But it also brought home the contrast between the local street and the global stadium, which has been at the heart of the remarkable events in Brazil over the past two weeks as a series of largely spontaneous, somewhat inchoate but often huge demonstrations have coincided with and overshadowed Fifa's tournament.

The World’s Game. Not a crappy little “sport” that is mass marketed to the world as the best of America (really? An actual athletic endeavor every five minutes or so punctuated, or rather punctuating, beer and truck commercials is the best we can export?) The people protesting were the very population that provided many of the players on the pitch for the Brazilian team. Brazil bills itself as “o Pais de Futebol”  -- the country of football. More than 10,000 Brazilians play the game professionally worldwide.

And yet, the working classes protested. And protested for the entire tournament. And will protest next year when the World Cup is held in Brazil. And in 2016 when Rio hosts the Summer Olympics.

Sports are sports. Why do Americans treat them as if they are life?