What to expect when you’re expecting

Frankly, no one gets it. No one has ANY idea what this silly tournament means to the people of Brasil. I call it silly because, well, it’s a sport. A game. My rational, prefrontal cortex informs me “Phil, seriously. It is a game. A game played by professionals, yes, and there is much money and national pride and so on at stake. That being said, it is a game. A sport. It is not life and death.”

And many things about that statement would indeed bear to scrutiny. Football is a game. There is no way around it. This is not the fate of nations here. This is not life and death, as in, proper war with guns and grenade launchers and warring factions, right?

Funnily enough, that is where the whole “it’s just a game” thing falls apart. This is because football often does involve just those things. Ask any Red Start or Partizan Belgrade fan about it. Football is life and death on far too many occasions.

I’m not going into a long dissertation on the heaviness of footballing passion – it’s been done by far better minds than mine, and anyone who reads this blog (all ten of you) already has a vested interest in this sport and does not need to be convinced.

But to those who have an interest in the peculiarity of footballing fanaticism will not have missed that there is one place where football is really and truly life. It is the only game in town. At least the only game that really matters. That could change after this World Cup, what with the generalized disgust of the average Brazilian at the mismanagement of funds in a country with as much hunger and economic inequality as Brasil. That’s a whole separate post there (Mike Assel, I will make good on this) – and there are layers of nuance in that whole sentiment. I have not spoken to a single Brazilian who is okay with how the whole thing has been. More money has been misappropriated than anyone will ever know. There are likely to be riots running throughout the cup.

“Ah, but it will all be forgotten when you guys win the cup!” I hear someone say.

Not this time friend. I am certain there are plenty of angry, hungry people praying Brasil does poorly in the cup in order to justify an explosion of grief and anger which would precipitate a violent uprising. That might sound a bit on the dramatic side, but check back with me in six weeks, we’ll see how far off I am.

But back to the original topic… what is it about football and Brasil? Why is it that this sport and not, say, handball has gripped the country’s fantasy?

Well, in fairness, handball is a bigger deal in Brasil than in the States, but anyway…

Through a mixture of historical coincidence and what I term an aspirational vacuum, football has become the fulcrum of identity around which Brazilians rally. Coincidence because football is a global phenomenon and is perhaps the sporting phenomenon of the 20th century. It came to Brasil and although it took time to find purchase among the nationals, without much for the people of the nation to look forward to outside of their meager lives, they increasingly gravitated to it. And then it so happened that the Brazilians were neighbors to the world’s first winner of the Jules Rimet trophy in 1930 – Uruguay. So right from the start, Brasil had exceptional competition right in the neighborhood.

As for the aspirational vacuum… who are Brasil’s heroes? They exist, for sure. But Brasil does not have many larger than life, inspirational personas, at least not in the political field. So with an absence of great leaders for the people to gravitate towards, they instead fixated on something they were good at: football.

Brasil is a footballing nation, much like Myanmar is a police state or Bhutan is a theocratic state. Brasil lacks in so many fundamental areas – everything from access to basic services to the massive income inequality. Brasil ranked 85 in the 2012 UNHDP rankings (for context, the US ranked third, Mexico ranked 61st). It has a massive economy but the gap between rich and poor is so vast it beggers belief.

But we are great at football. We’re the best at it, in fact. That is what those five stars above the CBF shield mean: we are at least this much better at this than any other nation in the world.

And in this sense, football has become for Brazilians our claim to fame on a global stage, in what is inarguably the world’s game. If aliens dig up our civilization thousands of years from now, they will know humans loved playing a game with a round ball on a green pitch. They will know about Brazil.

The US has it’s influence around the world. Saudi has oil. China has industry and manpower.

Brasil has football. And oh, do we ever.

But here’s the thing: what happens when a nation full of hungry people without access to basic institutions sees their government takes the thing they love the most and turns it into some kind of mutant, incestuous, nepotistic crony cash pool?

That statement needs explanation and qualification. Is it great that the PT (Workers Party) managed to finagle (bribe, buy, etc.) FIFA into awarding the World Cup to Brasil? Absolutely. Football may have been born in England, but it moved to Brasil a long time ago. So it makes sense to have it there: a joyous homecoming for the game that is the nation and world’s joy. Come to Brasil! We know how to party here! It seemed so perfect…

But then the allegations of corruption begin to trickle in. And not menial stuff either. Then there is, of course, the fact that arenas are being set up in parts of the country where the game is simply not in high demand (Manaus, Cuiabá) and what they cost – far above projection. There were the delays… there were the ballooning costs of stadia… there were more delays, more questions now popping up about infrastructure… the location of what is to be one of the key stadiums in the City of São Paulo (Arena Corinthians) – out in Itaquera – is about as far as you can get from the center of the city out to the extreme east side of town. Miles and miles away from hotels, creating a logistical nightmare for anyone trying to stay in the swanky center part of town to attend a stadium in what is (to put it delicately) not the best part of town.

Who knows which spark set off the first riots – was it the construction workers dying far too frequently at such arenas as the Arena Corinthians? Was it the $175 million projection to refurbish the Mané Garrincha stadium in Brasília that turned out to be more like $440 million? Fifty million more, maybe there’s a mild miscalculation there. But nearly 300 million dollars over budget?

And so something that is as intrinsic to Brasil as apple pie is to the US – that is, corruption – suddenly became no longer something with which folks were willing to tolerate. The PT – led by the monumentally unpopular Dilma Rousseff – might have inadvertently awakened a monster when they were hoping to drug the populace with its own favorite poison. Huge tournaments such as these can generate enormous amounts of capitol. This is not something Brasil’s sublimely corrupt politicians and big businessmen would have wanted to skip out on, but it seems they overplayed their hand.

Brazilians are angry because that which they have loved the most and with which they have identified most fiercely has been turned into an orgy of profiteering – and it was done at their expense. The politicians took something Brazilian, something beautiful, and raped it. Brazilians have the tendency to allow a certain amount of corruption. This time, the politicians went too far. People are furious.

Haha… I wasn’t going to turn this post into this!!! But the truth is I believe the average Brazilian is so fed up with the dirt bag creeps in Brasília ruining everything, ALWAYS and to do it to football which was the one thing the country really rallied around was the ultimate expression of the Brazilian politicians arrogance and impunity and folks down there have had it.

And it’s about time.

Brazilians will be, nevertheless, still hoping to see their beloved canarinho raised that trophy for a sixth time. If they don’t… if we have a repeat of 1950 (God forbid!!)… there will be violence. There will be blood. The tanks will come out and there will be rioting. And if Brasil goes out before the final, it could compromise the remainder of the tournament. That sounds drastic, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility. The politicos in charge of organizing this thing have set themselves up for failure.

Somehow, Luis Felipe Scolari will need to keep these sorts of thoughts away from his players. They will need to be unaware of just how much is riding on their shoulders. They will need to play with the joy the Brazilians are known play. They will need to be at their expressive and ruthless best.

I’m angry about it because these politicians have put a ridiculous burden on the national team which is completely unrelated to the tournament, while at the same time ruining the taste in the mouth of the world’s most devoted and passionate fans. And what for? Greed, of course. It’s the same story as it’s ever been down there. The pigs in Brasília care about as much for the public there as they do here I guess, but with the volume turned up to 11.

They have pissed on their compatriots, ruined the fun of what is supposed to be the greatest party in the world in the funnest country in the world, and they were convinced they were going to get away with it. Sick, filthy, degenerate pigs all of them.

But you better believe that the rioters will pause from filling the empty beer bottles with gasoline long enough to watch Neimar tear down the left side of the pitch, cut in and rifle one into the top corner. There will be a roar from the throats of the people as he wheels away with his arms spread wide, as he slides on his knees towards the corner with a see of yellow humanity undulating up the banks of seats at the Most Holy Place of football, Estadio Maracanã. People will cry in the streets, their hungry bellies forgotten for the moment that the young men in yellow shirt ascend that platform to lift that most coveted of prizes in the global game. The hearts of a trampled down, abused and frustrated people will pour forth in rivers of joy. There will be a moment where the entire universe rotates around one point in Rio de Janeiro. It will be glorious.

But even if that does happen, the stadiums will empty out. The tourists will leave. And the stadiums will stand empty, just like the stomachs of the poor.

Parties are great. Everyone loves a good party. But nobody mortgages their house to throw a party, especially when they don’t have a job to pay the bills once they start rolling in. Brazilians are a happy and forgiving people, but they are not stupid. The anger is real and even if this tournament goes the way the PT want (and, frankly, just about every Brazilian) it to go it will not just go away. Something has been awakened in Brasil, and we may have a very different team by the time they head off to Russia in 2018 to (hopefully) defend the title.

What to expect? I think all bets are off on this one.