Brazil is not being a bad sport

Global sport administrators like FIFA or IOC have little connect with the host country’s lived realities

Written by Mini Kapoor | Published: June 29, 2013 12:13 am

Global sport administrators like FIFA or IOC have little connect with the host country’s lived realities

When in a sport’s favourite nation they turn on the sport’s greatest event,something has to be terribly wrong. It would be facile — and also irresponsibly evasive — to blame the protests sweeping through Brazil’s streets solely on its ambitious calendar of mega sport championships,the football World Cup in 2014 and then the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro two years on. But coasting on the periphery of Brazil’ s protests — which have consciously used the backdrop of the ongoing Confederations Cup in the country to pose their anger over delivery of public services in sharper relief — may we glean intimations of a crisis in global sport? In fact,could it be that Brazil,land of the most intimate affection for sport as a way of the lived life,may yet galvanise a reform not just of their politics but also of sport administration?

Romario,former Brazilian footballer who was part of a World Cup winning squad and is now a Congressman,wrote a thoughtful column this week,explaining why he is now having second thoughts about supporting Brazil’s bid for the World Cup. He contrasted the vast change in the financial situation of his country since the time it secured the right to host the Cup with the unyielding stipulations of FIFA,football’s governing body.

As he wrote: “FIFA has announced that it will make a R$ [Brazilian real 4bn [$1.78bn profit from Brazil’s World Cup,tax-free. Its easy profit contrasts with the total lack of an effective legacy. President Dilma Rousseff repeats what former president Lula said,reassuring us that we’ll ‘host the best World Cup of all time’. I don’t agree,because we have failed on what matters most: a legacy to make us proud. Only FIFA is profiting,and this is one more good reason to go to the streets and protest.”

It may be time to call out the central disconnect between sport’s governing bodies and those who play and support the necessary vanity of bidding for hosting its great events. Romario calls out FIFA for setting up “a state within a state”.

Similar discomfort — though not of the same degree — about the zones of exceptionalism set up in the host country were uttered for the London Olympics. For instance,the International Olympic Committee’s diktat on how national flags may be flown away from competition venues. Even in acquiescent Beijing,there were murmurs of discontent about the disruption to residents’ routine by designated Olympics lanes on the roads and orders to curb the number of vehicles that may ply during the Games. And in an audacious airlift,the BCCI actually transported the Indian Premier League’s 2009 season out of the country because it had no patience with the particular demands of India’s election calendar.

There is a certain vanity to hosting big tournaments,giving the host a chance to make a splashy statement. It is,I’d argue,a necessary vanity and for reasons less trite than the argument that somebody has got to do it. (The current scramble by Istanbul,Madrid and Tokyo to get the right to host the 2020 Olympics is evidence that the desire to get the big championships will not be suppressed.)

Of course,every tournament does not transform the host for the permanent good,as did the Seoul Olympics of 1988 by setting South Korea on a democratic path. Every tournament does not become a catalyst for reconciliation,as did the 1995 rugby world championships when Nelson Mandela adorned the Springbok jersey and rallied an overwhelmingly white crowd behind the local team. And certainly,every tournament does not leave the hosts counting their profits,as the Americans managed at the boycott-hit Los Angeles Games.

More often,a big tournament is an occasion — an impetus even — to upgrade not just the stadia for actual competition,but also the national infrastructure for training and recruiting the young. How this aspiration is fuelled and channelled matters. The inclusive manner in which Britain went about on a years-long,calibrated programme to make its athletes medal-fit was a stunning contrast to the tightly supervised administration that yielded China so many gold medals. Somewhat differently,it spoke of the locally resonant and barrier-shattering power of sport earlier this year when New York City’s Grand Central hosted a face-off of America’s best wrestlers against Russia’s and Iran’s. It was part of an endeavour to save wrestling as an Olympic sport,to show that the IOC may be getting it all wrong when it deems wrestling to be not popular enough.

That last is important,because it shows how brittle may become the loyalty to the mega-events — like the World Cup in football-crazy Brazil — if sports administrators,especially the transnational bodies like the IOC and FIFA,continue to franchise their tournaments as spectacles removed from the lived life of the hosts. Tempering their extravagantdemands and conditions would be a good beginning.

The writer is a contributing editor for ‘The Indian Express’

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