Dave Zirin’s book Brazil’s Dance with the Devil is required reading for anyone with an interest in Brazil, and especially those who want to understand the social, political and economic context of this year’s football World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games, both to be staged there.
Many sports writers confine themselves to writing about sport as if it exists in isolation. Zirin, sports editor of the US publication The Nation, presents the more rounded view. His thesis is that such large events as Olympics and World Cups have become Trojan horses for the propagation of neoliberal economics and the political views that go with it.
One of his key examples is the upgrade of the World Cup’s centrepiece, the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro, which in its heyday housed 200,000 fans. Its capacity has been reduced to 75,000, with the ‘popular’ areas of the stadium sacrificed to impress a wealthier global audience.
This, he argues, symbolises a ‘new two-tiered Brazilian culture that excludes the masses’. Those in power have sold an image of the country’s ‘Brazilianness’ at the expense of ‘living, breathing Brazilians’. Brazil’s ‘very culture’ finds itself treated as an ‘export commodity’. As the author notes, today Brazil is the world’s biggest exporter of sugar, coffee – and footballers.
The book tells a poignant tale of the state of Brazil’s own football. The once free-flowing style that thrilled the world has given way to a more regimented form with the disappearance of public space in Brazil’s major cities. Even on the beaches of Rio, where generations learned their skills in impromptu games and practice sessions, organised clubs have taken over.
In this World Cup, Brazil takes the field with a far more commoditised brand of player than in former times of glory. The creative brilliance of Pelé, Rivelino, Gérson and other members of the World Cup winning team of 1970 – the height of Brazil’s sporting achievement – is unlikely to be repeated.
Zirin quotes Socrates, the leading Brazilian player and rebel against authority of the 1970s and 1980s, who died, aged only 57, in 2011. ‘What needs to change here is the focus on development,’ said the former star and one of the most popular figures in Brazil as preparations for this year’s tournament gathered momentum. ‘We need to prioritise the human being.’
#227 Democratic Dictators ● The psychology of authoritarianism ● Does national pride have a place on the left? ● Keep police out of schools ● Video games special ● The new left MPs ● Speaking to local organisers ● Simon Hedges’ column ● Book reviews ● And much more!
And you choose how much to pay for your subscription...
Radical publishing houses are under existential threat - just as people look for ways to fill their time. Siobhan McGuirk and K Biswas select lockdown reads from our favourite booksellers
The far right thrives on 'economic anxiety and cultural backlash' argues Dawn Foster in a review of Cas Mudde's latest book
Two well-known voices on the British left, Paul Mason and Aaron Bastani, have outlined what they see as the revolutionary potential of technology. K. Biswas reviews their visions
Suki Ferguson reviews the XR guide to climate activism
A collection of essays which could be a key resource for those seeking to create economic alternatives, edited by Catherine Samary and Fred Leplat. Reviewed by Derek Wall
A book that systematically unpicks the myths that are spread in order to preserve the status quo, written by Nesrine Malik. Reviewed by Leah Cowan