Press TV has conducted an interview with Harry Brown, an author and lecturer at the School of Media, Institute of Technology, in Dublin, about mass demonstrations in Brazil against the Copa de mundo da FIFA Brasil 2014 2014 FIFA World Cup. This will be the 20th FIFA World Cup, an international men’s football tournament that is scheduled to take place in Brazil from 12 June to 13 July 2014. It will be the second time that Brazil has hosted the competition, the previous being in 1950. Brazil was elected unchallenged as host nation in 2007 after the international football federation, FIFA, decreed that the tournament would be staged in South America for the first time since 1978 in Argentina, and the fifth time overall.
The following is an approximate transcript of the interview, which however forms only part of an interesting discussion with a number of other guests. For the full video discussion, click here: Elites use World Cup to solidify power: Analyst
Press TV: The game of soccer, or football depending on where you live, has turned into this multi-billion dollar business, from the millions and more recently the tens of millions that are being paid to their players in terms of their salaries. Has money affected this sport?
Brown: Yes, of course. It affects it on the pitch and it affects it off the pitch. The expense of going to games in most of the European leagues has come beyond the capacity of most of the ordinary people who used to attend those matches.
The players themselves have entered into kind of a world of the super-rich – at least a small number of them have – that makes them quite remote from their origins.
And of course with projects like the World Cup, you have this massive infrastructure spending that is ultimately very profitable for the kind of cronies of the governments that host them so that for building contractors, infrastructure people there is enormous opportunity in the games.
Not only on the World Cup level, but something like the English Premier league, there is an enormous amount of money floating around – most of it of course coming from television; most of it ultimately paid for by ordinary people who buy tickets or buy subscriptions to satellite dishes or who pay by watching advertisements on a soccer game on television.
But it all comes from the enormous appetite for the game and incredibly there doesn’t seem to be any sign of this bubble bursting. It just keeps growing and growing.
Press TV: We could throw some figures in terms of what the players get paid in salary – I’m looking at the team Real Madrid, which has topped the list of teams making the most money – 3.3 billion dollars; Manchester United now worth 3.1 billion. These are astronomical figures.
Brown: Yes. Ten or 15 years ago, even American sports dwarfed football in terms of their salaries of players. Now, major soccer teams and great players are being paid as much or more than baseball players of American football players or basketball players.
Press TV: It is quite amazing when we take a look at these viewer comments… First, it shows how the politics of football has actually affected the viewers and how they view the game – and some of these comments are a testament to that.
Let’s look at Brazil, on which we focused in our report prior to talking to you… In Brazil, what is the government doing? It’s said that they are dealing with problems that has existed there, such as in the slums, regarding the peoples’ infrastructure, their lives being under such bad living standards that they’re experiencing there; and at the same time the government is spending all this money to try to clean up the slums.
So, that’s one of the controversies regarding the government spending on the World Cup versus how they are dealing with the ordinary people especially in the slums. Why is it that the government did not deal with this problem prior to the World Cup do you think?
Brown: Well, I think it comes back to the built-in corruption that’s part of the system and so you end up with the situation where the government, as part of its efforts to win the World Cup, persuades people that it’s going to improve infrastructure, improve education and it is ends up… that at the last minute it is actually driving poor people out of their homes in order to create this space.
But I think it’s important to say and a number of your commentators are sort of alienated from football for very good reasons: because of the money and because of this kind of sense that it’s this ‘weapon of distraction.’
But let’s look at Brazil and see that football, which is loved by so many millions, tens of millions of Brazilian people, has become a focus. For the very reason that football is so important to Brazilians – it’s become a focus for this protest. We’ve seen this in other countries before, indeed we’ve seen it in Iran in times when Iran is qualified for the World Cup and there have been protests around that. So, we know that the passion that people feel about football is not disconnected from the capacity to protest around it.
So I think we can view football and we can view this World Cup in a more positive light that this is an opportunity for Brazilians to bring their grievances onto the street, to have those grievances viewed and talked about by the whole world, I mean we’re talking about it on this program – we probably wouldn’t be talking about it if Brazil weren’t hosting the World Cup and if there wasn’t this football dimension to it.
So I think actually… Football is not really very important of course in reality, but it also is very important. And the fact that it arouses people’s passions means that it has political capacities that are uncontrollable.
We know that the Brazilian generals and the Argentine generals back in the1960s and 1970s thought that they could use the World Cup, thought that they could use football success to pacify the people, but it didn’t work.
I think that’s the important thing; there are politics of resistance in football as well as politics of repression.
Press TV: Our other guest (Isaac Bigio) talks about how the elite class is going to benefit. Based on the research done for this in terms of the economic factors and finances, it doesn’t appear that the nations that host the World Cup actually make money. They don’t even break even were they to make money – and we could refer to some of the previous World Cups.
Is it just a particular elite class making money off this or is it the fame that it brings for the host nation. Maybe you can clarify and explain that for us.
Brown: I think it is absolutely the question of elites benefitting, but in that sense football is like other realms of the economy and like other realms of society that the benefits are overwhelmingly channeled to the elite.
And an event like the World Cup is used as an opportunity by those elites to consolidate their power. They often, as we discussed earlier, they often get emergency powers to clear slum areas in order to build infrastructure in order to have quick profitable contracts for their friends. So it is part of the structure of society that football replicates.
And I guess what I’m saying is that it is also possible for people to take the game back and for the energies of football supporters to be used in a positive sense.
I was in Cairo last year for example and I know that a great deal of the kind of the revolutionary impetus on the streets around Tahrir Square were coming from supporters of the football club.
On the one hand, we have the horrors of some place like Qatar where we can see that the government there is indifferent not only to the concerns of ordinary people, but even to the workers on the stadiums themselves.
So we have football reflecting the divisions in everyday life in other realms as well.
I guess what I’m saying about football is that it is so important to people that football can also be a weapon by which we try to reclaim those spaces, to reclaim those streets where the real football is played and to say that these circuses like the World Cup are not going to distract us from the kind of solidarity and the kind of passion and the kind of joy that the game can still bring.
Press TV: Do you think that the spirit of the World Cup can be brought back into making it a sport that is being watched with passion minus the politics – As the adage goes, politics and sports should not mix?
Brown: I think it’s inevitable that politics and sports will mix and I think that as long as we have societies that are unequal, societies that are run by elites who use all aspects of that society to benefit themselves – It’s part of the structure of capitalism and of corporations that they must do these things – I think it’s inevitable that football will be tainted by it.
I think it’s impossible to pull sports and politics apart because sports are so important to people in societies that are political creatures and of course sporting clubs themselves have their own politics, their own debates, their own struggles within them.
So, God forbid sport and politics should be separated but I’m excited about Brazil in the World Cup in the football…